Polish Ruling Party Seeks to End `Extreme Bias' in Public Media

  • Draft law gives government direct control over public media
  • Opposition and public TV say bill undermines legal order

Poland’s ruling party is pushing through parliament a bill to allow its government to directly appoint executives to public broadcasters and end what it sees as biased media coverage against its policies.

In a parliamentary vote carried out after midnight, Law & Justice backed the draft law, which also drops requirements to hold contests for senior positions in public media and diminishes the role of the media regulator. Opposition politicians oppose the legislation, saying it grants the government full control over public broadcasters and continues a worrying pattern of the party extending its influence following October’s election victory.

Law & Justice has forced out the head of the country’s anti-corruption agency, limited the opposition’s oversight of secret services while changing regulations surrounding the constitutional tribunal and refusing to abide by its rulings, raising concerns about the system of checks and balances guaranteed by the constitution. Its zeal in consolidating power has brought thousands of people onto the streets twice this month and is starting to erode the administration’s public support.

“This is the first step in our planned overhaul of public media,” Law & Justice lawmaker Beata Mazurek told reporters in parliament. “We hope that finally the media narrative with which we don’t agree with ends, and we’re able to reach Poles with our message in an unbiased way.”

Deputy lower-house speaker Ryszard Terlecki said that in past weeks, public television’s coverage of the ruling party’s row with the constitutional court showed “extreme bias” and that changes must be implemented quickly because “public media can’t be a side in political discussions.”

National Broadcasters

Support for Law & Justice fell to an average of 32.6 percent in nine opinion polls published since Dec. 9, down from its 37.6 percent showing in the Oct. 25 election. A majority of Poles believe their country’s democracy is being weakened by the ruling party, according to a survey by IBRiS from Nov. 27-28.

Law & Justice lawmaker Barbara Bubula told a parliamentary committee on Wednesday that future legislation will turn state-run media into “national broadcasters who will defend Poland’s good name.” The ruling party is also considering imposing new fees on private television and radio broadcasters to help finance public media, according to a report by Wirtualne Media website on Dec. 16.

The legislation, which still needs approval from both houses of parliament, may be illegal and wasn’t consulted with the National Broadcasting Council, a body that oversees public and private broadcasters, according to Janusz Daszczynski, the head of Poland’s public television TVP.

“The proposals contradict the main intention of the transformation of public media in the 1990s, changing government-run broadcasters into public media, which aim to be pluralistic and keep a clear distance from current political decision makers -- especially the government,” he said in a statement on Dec. 29 and published on TVP’s website.

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