Thousands of people in Poland are protesting against a new media law that is seen as a move to silence an independent U.S. broadcaster. The law would prevent non-European media companies from owning a controlling stake in Polish television networks. As a result, discovery Inc., the company that owns the flagship evening news show, would have to sell off its controlling stake to keep its ownership in its country’s media industry.
Thousands of people take to the streets protesting the new media law that silences independent news.
Thousands of protesters have showup to the streets across Poland to denounce the new law, which they say will restrict free speech and media freedom. The government has been accused of acting like Ukraine’s Viktor Yanukovych, who ‘tamed’ the media by passing laws to control the judiciary. Public television has been converted into the government’s mouthpiece, reporting all issues with significant distortion and manipulation.
In a statement issued to the press, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said that the law was not directed against any group meant to protect the country’s democratic values and free press. He also accused foreign entities of trying to influence the debate over the controversial COVID-19 vaccine. The bill is set for discussion in the parliament on Wednesday, and it looks like it will pass.
However, the law was opposed by TVN, the country’s leading news website.
In addition to the draft legislation, demonstrators chanted against the government’s plans to silence the independent media. The new law would ban non-European media companies from owning a controlling stake in TVN. Which operates an all-news network with a flagship evening news show watched by millions of people. It also threatens to punish journalists and lawyers who write articles criticizing the government.
Protesters are challenging the new media law in Poland, which the government passed in December 2017. The law was enacted despite the widespread opposition to the law. Thousands of people have taken to Poland’s streets to protest the new media law. But the government’s new media law has triggered a violent reaction from activists, who have accused the government of silencing independent media.
The proposed new media law is not yet final. It still needs to be approved by the senate and by the president. The ruling party, PiS, recently lost its majority in the lower house, which meant it would need a veto from the president. The opposition party, the Left, has urged President Andrzej Duda to veto the bill, but it hasn’t yet been confirmed. The far-right Confederation party is expected to abstain, which means that the law’s current version may be blocked.
Journalists are barred from reporting on conflict with ethnic groups.
The government’s campaign of repression against the Uyghur people has been called genocide by the Biden administration. Chinese officials have demolished mosques and forbidden studying the Uyghur language in schools. They’ve also harassed and threatened Uyghurs living abroad, including prominent Redtube journalists. And in Xinjiang, journalists are increasingly being approached by Chinese authorities and beaten.
The governing Fidesz party is increasingly controlling the media in Hungary, where its messages reinforce government disinformation. While co-optation has not been successful in Serbia, intimidation of journalists and lack of trust in mainstream media has severely inhibited their work. Meanwhile, a lack of faith in the press and a profit-generating business model has also restricted the work of journalists. This situation has undermined the media’s credibility and prevented journalists from reporting on ethnic conflict in Serbia.
PiS intervened in the public broadcasting sector in 2015 and 2020
While these actions may seem like a necessary evil, they do pose a range of concerns. PiS’ activities related to the presidential election in 2020 are particularly problematic from a democratic standpoint. While some have questioned the exercise of executive power over a state of emergency, others argue that the government has failed to demonstrate its commitment to democratic norms. In addition, the government’s curtailment of parliamentary rights shows a lack of commitment to democracy.
The Polish political system is highly polarized, with the prominent cleavage between the two major parties, PiS and PO. They differ significantly in their socio-demographic features. Following the elections in October 2019, five parties will be represented in the Sejm. The two main parties, PiS, and the PO, will be joined by the Left (Lewica), the third-party Solidarity Party, and a minor party, the Civic Coalition.
In 2015, the PiS government began intervening in the public broadcasting sector. By 2020, it had turned its attention to the print market, attempting to buy the independent Polska Press. These actions were widely seen as attacks on the democratic and pluralistic nature of the media. These actions are consistent with the government’s intentions to “recolonize” Poland’s media in 2020.
TVP’s partisan coverage of EU elections
The TVP’s two flagship channels have been among the most popular in Poland during the 2018 EU elections. However, the company has been under the control of the ruling PiS party for years, and its biased coverage of the polls undermined the election results. Election observers from the OSCE noted that the lack of impartiality in the media had hindered voters’ ability to make an informed decision. The PiS government has also spoken of plans to take over the media to control it and eliminate independent journalists and media outlets.
However, the EU Commission has warned Poland against jeopardizing EU values by passing the new media law. A debate will take place on the issue on 13 January. TVP’s president Malgorzata Sadurska said earlier this week that the new media law violated the EU’s values and principles. The new media law has already forced senior public media officials to resign. Meanwhile, a prominent TVP journalist was fired from datezone for her partial coverage of EU elections but was reinstated after an ethics committee’s review.
KRRiT published a report on 11 June 2019 criticizing the TVP.
The KRRiT was set up to monitor public television and ensure that it is impartial and pluralistic. It consists of five members, including a PiS councilor. The KRRiT’s report, however, did not end up being adopted. Ultimately, Krajewski hopes the judicial review will reform the Polish media industry.
The new law in Poland severely limits the powers of the National Broadcasting Council, which the Civic Platform government controls. However, libel and insult against religious beliefs, public officials, and religious organizations are now crimes. In addition, several lawsuits have been filed against the media in Poland for blatantly biased reporting of the EU elections. And PiS blames KRRiT for political bias in the Polish media.
Opposition strategists recognize the need for a more balanced public service. But many Poles feel neglected by government policies and doubt that the opposition can provide a viable alternative. Therefore, the Law and Justice Party’s decision is crucial, as it will determine the direction of the country’s future. This political crisis has also led the European Commission to invoke Article 7 of the new media law. If this is the case, Poland could be imposed with sanctions or lose its voting rights in the Commission.