RSF hails initial retreat by Warsaw on public media reform

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) welcomes the Polish government’s decision to postpone adoption of a new “major law” on the public broadcast media that would have included changes to their legal status and would have made it possible to fire all of their journalists.

RSF, which had previously condemned this proposed law as a violation of the European Union’s fundamental values, will continue to pay close attention to other proposed legislation still being debated by the Polish parliament.

Shortly after taking office, the government led by the conservative Law and Justice party (PiS) adopted a media law in January that gives it the power to hire and fire state TV and radio executives.

The law that has just been postponed, the second proposed media law, would have allowed the government to terminate the contracts of all state media employees and would have made it possible for the state media’s executives to decide where or not to rehire them.

This proposed measure has been abandoned for good, according to deputy culture minister Krysztof Czabanski, who said that the European Commission would have to be notified first of any proposed changes to Poland’s media legislation.

He nonetheless also said that a proposed temporary law creating a “National Media Council” would be submitted to parliament for adoption on 1 July. As it stands, this bill grants excessive powers to the parliamentary speaker, including the power to name the National Media Council’s president.

We hope the Polish government will take of account of civil society’s concerns about maintaining the public broadcast media’s independence,” said Pauline Adès-Mével, the head of RSF’s EU-Balkans desk. “RSF monitors respect for media pluralism in EU countries and will continue to draw attention to anything that could pose a threat to media freedom.

On 13 January, the European Commission began a preliminary investigation into the PiS government’s controversial reforms. On 1 June, the commission adopted a formal opinion about these reforms that constituted a warning to the government that it was endangering the rule of law.

RSF is pleased that the Polish government is finally beginning to heed the concern being expressed by the European Union about media freedom and independence in Poland. RSF had asked the European Union to adopt disciplinary measures if the government went ahead with its draconian legislation.

Poland is ranked 47th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index, a fall of 29 places from its position in the 2015 Index.

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Updated on 14.06.2016