European Union Launches Probe into Poland’s New Media Law

European Union Launches Probe into Poland's
Courtesy of Sergii Kharchenko/NurPhoto/REX/Shutterstock

LONDON — A new media law in Poland has provoked an argument with the European Union about freedom of speech and the nature of democracy.

Following October’s election in Poland, the right-wing Law and Justice Party came to power, and one of its first acts has been to tighten its grip on the public broadcaster, TVP.

At the end of last year, the Polish government extended its powers to allow it to hire and fire the heads of TVP, which commands the largest share of the country’s TV audience, as well as the publicly owned radio network and press agency. Previously the public media chiefs reported to a media supervisory committee.

In response to the new law, the heads of Poland’s public TV channels resigned in protest on Dec. 31.

This in turn has led to the European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, to launch an inquiry into the allegedly anti-democratic lurch of the Polish government. In a speech Wednesday, Frans Timmermans, First Vice-President of the EC, said that the media law “raises issues relating to freedom (of expression) and pluralism of the media.”

The European Broadcasting Union, which represents public broadcasters in Europe, has also expressed its disquiet. “The haste with which this new law has been rushed through parliament strikes a discordant note about Poland and its respect for the rule of law and the democratic process,” EBU director general Ingrid Deltenre wrote in a letter to Poland’s President Andrzej Duda earlier this month.

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  1. Donna landt says:

    this is insane, there was no complains when PO controled media but now? PO was to destroy Poland and they did great job doind so.

  2. Contrary to the alarmist media reports we, the free citizens of Poland, want to reassure you that in Poland today there are no threats to democracy. The mainstream media in the West, taking cues from the Polish mainstream press and those connected to the last government (recently ejected from office for corruption) continue to criticise the current freshly, democratically elected government and deliver incomplete accounts of the actions on the ground. This active “spin” is meant to obfuscate the truth about the last 8 years as well as to “poison the well” for those elected with the largest democratic mandate in modern Polish history. (This is the first government elected with a unilateral mandate to govern without coalition partners.) This propagandist treatment is occurring at an unceasing and even increasing pace from those who cannot claim objectivity as they have been personally, professionally, and financially connected to those who have just been ejected from government for many years. No one in Poland denies that a free people are endowed with a right to public protest. This is self-evident in a modern democracy. But western press accounts strongly suggest that this is the case in Poland today.

    It is important to set the record straight that during the last eight years in Poland this was NOT the case and these democratic ideals were not always upheld. It was during the ruling years of the Civic Platform and the Polish People’s Party (PO-PSL) coalition that these standards, generally accepted by contemporary democracies, were frequently and brazenly violated. For the record, here are some examples of what transpired in clear breach of democratic norms under the PO-PSL ruling coalition years:

    – Independent journalists were repeatedly harassed by the security agencies. The staff of, among others, Gazeta Polska Codzienne (GPC) had their homes searched. In May 2011, at 6:00 AM the agents of the Internal Security Agency entered the private residential apartment of an Internet user who operated a satirical website lampooning then President, Bronisław Komorowski.

    – Independent journalists were dismissed from their posts when they pushed for a transparent investigation into the Smolensk crash. Tomasz Sakiewicz and Anita Gargas, among others, lost their jobs in the public media. Cezary Gmyz was dismissed from the editorial staff of “Rzeczpospolita” (a daily paper partly owned by the state) for publishing information indicating that there were traces of TNT found on the wreck of the plane that crashed in Smolensk in April 2010. This information was later confirmed by the prosecutors leading the investigation.

    – In June 2014, agents of the Internal Security Agency raided the headquarters of the news weekly “Wprost” after the magazine published the transcripts of recorded conversations held by some of the highest level PO politicians in Warsaw’s most expensive restaurants. During this raid the agents attempted to confiscate computers and data storage devices belonging to the journalists. The so called “tape scandal” (“afera taśmowa”) that had erupted upon publication of the content of these tapes, provided evidence of many scandalous and criminal behaviours, including the revelation that state-owned companies actively subsidized those media platforms that were writing in favour of the ruling government. It was only the large scale mainstream media outlets, sympathetic to the ruling coalition government and by design NOT covering the government’s corruption scandals, who were the recipients of lucrative advertising contracts from Poland’s largest companies (which are in-part state-owned enterprises with large discretionary budgets). For this reason the independent media, regardless of readership or audience, were deprived of paid-for commercial advertising opportunities by government fiat.

    – In December 2014, two journalists (Tomasz Gzela of the Polish Press Agency and Jan Pawlicki of Telewizja Republika) were arrested. They were covering the protest held at the headquarters of the National Electoral Commission after the local elections. For a week after the election the Commission would not certify the results of the elections which agitated many Poles with a material contingent deciding to protest by occupying the premises of the Commission in a demand for electoral transparency and oversight. The journalists were arrested even though they possessed press passes and were doing their job. They also had to face a lawsuit. All this was going on against the backdrop of the highest level PO politicians such as the then-President (Komorowski) and the Mayor of Warsaw (Waltz) giving public comments that it was an act of treason to question electoral processes and opacity. Likewise, the head of the Constitutional Tribunal, Andrzej Rzeplinski, despite having no legal right to do so, publically stated that there were no grounds to question the results of the election. To this very day the results of these last local elections remain highly questionable. The shining example of this pertains to PSL having received well more votes than expected (by a factor of 10) in a region (Gdynia) where they have had little historical support yet enough votes to give them the ability to preserve PO’s ruling coalition. In addition, there still remain two thousand protest notes lodged in local courts.

    – During the last 8 years the previous government kept journalists and citizens under surveillance as a routine practice. In 2014, the secret service applied to access 2,177,000 telephone bills. This is a Europe-leading level of prying into ordinary citizens’ every-day lives. The District Public Prosecutor’s Office in Warsaw is currently leading an investigation into the wiretapping of independent journalists. In all likelihood, the secret service had no court warrant to do so.

    – In May 2015, after the Presidential election was lost by President Bronisław Komorowski, the PO-PSL coalition violated the constitution and appointed new members of the Constitutional Tribunal before the justices’ terms were up. The politicians of the departing coalition wanted to appropriate the Tribunal by limiting the right of the new ruling party to elect judges of their choice. Today, after the reforms implemented by the democratically elected Law and Justice Party (PiS), the judges elected by the Civic Platform still constitute the majority. They occupy 9 of 15 seats in the Constitutional Tribunal.

    These are just a few glaring examples of the way in which the last government subverted democracy to its will to engage in an attempted looting of the country (and in many ways having succeeded). Similar violations of civil liberties became the norm but they went unreported by a pliant media that was directly and indirectly on the previous government’s payroll. The number of corruption scandals that occurred under this PO-PSL coalition government was staggering. These encompassed every sort of corrupt behaviour from bribes (to one minster in the form of expensive watches), to patronage, to bogus un-bid contracts, to self-dealing of bonuses and pensions, to preferential tax treatment for allies and supporters, and even the nationalization of the private sector managed segment of the pension system. Under their nose a pyramid scheme (“Amber Gold”) flourished and many thousands of Poles were cheated out of their savings while the politically connected head of the National Bank said nothing despite having been fully aware of the scheme (also revealed in the “tapes scandal”). And all of this occurring with a media complex that could not be bothered to report on this institutionalized lawlessness. On October 25th this year the public said enough is enough and in a democratic election, with not a single allegation of any irregularities, rebuked and removed the PO-PSL coalition from power.

    Democracy in Poland is the healthiest it has been in 25 years and certainly as compared to the eight years under the previous government. The people have finally purged, through democratic elections, the post-communist machine that was never held to account or reformed after 1989 and its accompanying corruption. The reform begins now and Poles are optimistic….despite what has been printed in the New York Times and the Washington Post

  3. Matthew says:

    The Liberal socialist German government is at it again.. One needs to remind them, that Hitler is no longer around… Hello… LOL

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