Poland postpones public media overhaul

By bne IntelliNews June 9, 2016

Poland will postpone passing controversial new legislation that sought to place public media directly under the auspices of the government and oblige it to follow a conservative editorial line, a government official announced on June 9.

The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has already replaced the management at the country's public radio and TV stations. However, it had also planned to transform them into “national media” with an editorial line following "traditional, patriotic and Christian values."

Officials claim that will not now go forwards, because it would take too long to push past the EU. However, Warsaw is also likely to be keen to avoid further confrontation with Brussels for the meantime, as it seeks to resolve the crisis around the constitutional court to its advantage, a tussle that has provoked bitter clashes with many Poles and the EU.

A key element of the new law was to be a fee paid by all users of electricity, which would have ensured funds to power public media. State outlets are facing faltering income from the yearly media fee paid by Poles for access to TV and radio.

However, such a change would require notification of the EU, which is a lengthy process, Deputy Culture Minister Krzysztof Czabanski told local newswire IAR. Therefore, only some elements of the proposed law will be proceeded, such as establishment of a so-called National Media Board, a body to oversee public media in Poland.

Warsaw has been in hot water with Brussels over its treatment of public media, after it ended the terms of the current members of the state media supervisory board KRRiT and gave the treasury ministry power to nominate CEOs at state-owned outlets directly. The legislation caused widespread controversy in Poland and the European Union.

Poland slipped 29 places to 47th position in Reporters Without Borders’ 2016 World Press Freedom Index released in April. The fall in the ranking was the third largest recorded this year, and was driven by recent government moves to push foreign owners out of the sector and assert strong control over state media organisations. Only long term abusers of press freedom Tajikistan and Brunei saw sharper declines.

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