Polish president signs media law despite major concerns

Many, including EU leaders, fear move is step towards taking full control of state radio and television.

    Duda's aide said that he signed the new legislation because he wants state media to be "impartial, objective and reliable" [AFP]
    Duda's aide said that he signed the new legislation because he wants state media to be "impartial, objective and reliable" [AFP]

    Poland's president has signed a temporary new law that is expected to be a major step towards giving the government full control of state radio and television.

    The move has sparked a concern for media freedom in the country among European Union leaders and independent journalists.

    The legislation, passed on Tuesday, will take effect one day after it is published, which should be within days, and will expire June 30. By then, a sweeping new law intended to overhaul the state-run broadcasters and the PAP news agency is expected to be in place.

    President Andrzej Duda signed the new legislation because he wants state media to be "impartial, objective and reliable," his aide Malgorzata Sadurska said.

    READ MORE: Poland enacts court reforms despite opposition

    She added that the president believes that the private views of journalists currently interfere with the objectivity of information in state media.

    The new law allows for the immediate ending of the terms of the heads of state radio and television, and transfers the authority to appoint successors to the treasury minister, from a separate radio and TV committee that oversees the media.

    It also limits the number of members sitting on the state broadcasters' supervisory and management boards.

    The legislation was proposed and put on a fast track for approval by the new conservative ruling party, which has embarked on sweeping state and social reforms, including the new media law, that have sparked serious concerns in Brussels.

    The European Commission will debate Poland's rule of law on January 13, a step that could eventually result in the country losing its EU voting rights on matters that concern the entire 28-nation bloc. Poland joined the EU in 2004.

    'Contradictory to democracy'

    The "measures taken by the Polish government are contradictory to media pluralism and independence of public service broadcasting, and to democracy in Poland," the European Federation of Journalists said on Thursday in a letter to Gunther Oettinger, the European commissioner responsible for media issues.

    "They would be in clear contradiction of EU fundamental values," the letter added.

    Sadurska said that the president is fully aware of the EU concerns, and believes the new law will not be detrimental. She insisted that Duda wants public media to perform their role properly.

    The conservative Law and Justice party that took power in November says that state broadcasters are now serving the previous, liberal and pro-EU government.

    On Tuesday, Nils Muiznaiks, the Council of Europe human rights commissioner, appealed to Duda not to sign the law.

    Jean-Claude Juncker, European Commission president, said on Thursday that Poland is an "important and full member of the EU" and he did not want to speculate about the consequences of the steps being taken by the new government in Warsaw.

    Bert Koenders, foreign minister of the Netherlands, which currently holds the EU presidency, noted that dialogue was needed with Poland over the matter.

    "I have contacted the Polish foreign minister [Witold Waszczykowski] on the importance we attach to a dialogue .... that it does not become a confrontation in the EU," Koenders told The Associated Press.



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