News

AEJ challenges Polish government claim of independence in revised public broadcasting system

The AEJ has challenged the Polish government to apply ‘remedies’ for an ongoing threat to media freedom caused by the removal of legal guarantees of independence from the   management of the country’s TV and Radio public broadcasting system. The AEJ contests the argument advanced by Poland, that the government lacks any ‘influence over the shape of the public media.’ That assertion is contained in Poland’s written response, dated March 14 2017, to an earlier Alert published on the Council of Europe’s online Platform for the Safety of Journalists. The Alert, titled ‘Polish Law on Public Service Broadcasting Removes Guarantees of Independence’ appeared on the Platform on 4 January 2016. It was co-submitted by the AEJ and other partner organisations of the Council of Europe: Article 19, CPJ, EFJ/IFJ, Index on Censorship and Reporters Without Borders. The Platform Alert and related links, including Poland’s Response, can be viewed here:   http://www.coe.int/en/web/media-freedom/all-alerts/-/soj/alert/13778962

Here is the text of the AEJ’s Statement contesting the government’s claim and calling for further remedial action:-

AEJ Statement on the Letter dated 14 March 2017 from the Permanent Representative of Poland to the Council of Europe concerning the ‘Platform’ Alert of 4 January 2016: ‘Polish Law on Public Service Broadcasting Removes Guarantees of Independence’.   17 May 2017.

Poland’s Permanent Representative in Strasbourg states in his letter of 14 March 2017 to the Platform for the Protection of Journalism and the Safety of Journalists that the Polish Government has been “deprived of any influence on the shape of the public media in Poland” by a law on the National Media Council (NMC), which entered into force on July 7, 2016.   The Response of the Polish government further argues that therefore the alert on the Platform, dated 4 January 2016, which warned that Poland’s new media laws remove guarantees of independence, “should be treated as resolved”.   The Association of European Journalists considers, however, that the threats to media freedom that were identified in the Alert of 4 January 2016 are still present, that the Alert remains Unresolved, and that it requires further remedial action by the government.

The July 7, 2016 law gives the NMC the sole right to appoint and dismiss the management of both public radio and television in Poland, as well as the Polish Press Agency.   The law gives the governing majority in Parliament the power to fill three seats in the five-person NMC. The remaining two seats are reserved for nominees of the second and third largest parties in Parliament, who are formally appointed to their NMC posts by the President.   This arrangement means that these two NMC members may take part, speak and vote, but as they lack a majority they are unable to meaningfully shape decisions affecting the governance of the public media.   Thus, de facto control over appointments in public service media management remains firmly in the hands of the ruling party, which may therefore carry out the wishes of the government at will.

An analysis of the NMC law and its earlier drafts made by Council of Europe experts ( http://merlin.obs.coe.int/iris/2016/7/article2.en.html ) points out further shortcomings of the Public Broadcasting Act.

Appointments made by the NMC since it was established show that the ruling party fully controls all senior public media appointments and, consequently, public media programming   This   shows that these media are very much under the political and economic control of the government authorities, whose policies and actions thus continue to contravene Council of Europe standards on public service media.

The implementation of the NMC law has in no way reversed the wave of peremptory sackings and resignations under pressure which have occurred in both public radio and television since the beginning of 2016.   A list compiled   by the Society of Journalists, an independent association, ( http://towarzystwodziennikarskie.org/ ) shows that since the beginning of last year 132 journalists were dismissed from public radio and television, 67 resigned in protest at the changes and 28 were demoted from their previous posts or were reassigned. In all, those findings show, the employment of 227 individuals was adversely affected by decisions made arbitrarily under the new governance regime of Polish public broadcasting, whose lack of independence was the subject of the original alert.