Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the European Commission to be firm with Poland if the two-month-old national-conservative “Law and Justice” (PiS) government fails to abandon the media law that was adopted last week.
Passed by the lower house on 30 December and the senate the next day, the law gives the government full control over public broadcasters, thereby violating fundamental European Union values. It has not yet been signed by the president. Its adoption has prompted the European Commission to schedule a debate on “the state of the rule of law” in Poland on 13 January. “This new law, giving the government full powers to appoint and dismiss the heads of the public broadcast media, constitutes a flagrant violation of media freedom and pluralism,” said Alexandra Geneste, the head of RSF’s EU-Balkans desk in Brussels. “Poland is embarking on the anti-democratic road already taken by Viktor Orban’s Hungary. The European Union cannot allow itself to have two member-states that violate its Charter of Fundamental Rights so flagrantly.” Until now, the heads of the state-owned broadcast media were selected by means of a procedure overseen by the National Broadcasting Council (KRRiT). Several of them, including the heads of the two main public TV channels, TVP1 and TVP2, submitted their resignations as soon as the new law was passed. Günther Oettinger, the European commissioner for digital economy and society, has threatened to “place Warsaw under monitoring,” which would be an unprecedented procedure. In a letter to the Polish government, European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans said: “Freedom and pluralism of the media are crucial (...) in a member state respectful of the common values on which the union is founded.” RSF welcomes this comment. “We urge the European Union to be firm. Respect for media freedom and pluralism are among the requirements for admission to the union. The EU cannot demand from membership candidates what it does not demand from its own members. Its credibility is at stake.” If the Polish government refuses to budge, the European Commission could initiate a procedure for addressing “threats to fundamental European values.” Created in 2014 and not as yet used, this mechanism could result, at worst, in Poland being stripped of its voting rights on the European Council. Poland is ranked 18th out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. Its position could fall if this law is implemented.