Dark Clouds over Pluralism and Freedom of Media in Poland

13 January 2016 / By Pier Luigi Parcu, Director of the Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom, European University Institute

Very bad news for European fundamental values is in the offing from Poland. The Polish President Andrej Duda signed a law that is creating serious concern at both national and European levels. The law was imposed, right after the elections, by the new ruling party, known for its declared Euroscepticism.

The new law places public service media (PSM) – the public service broadcaster TPV and the Polish public Radio – under direct government control.  Moreover, the law dismisses, with immediate effect, all the bodies of the public radio and television and gives the Minister in charge of State Treasury the power to appoint new managers without any check and balance exercise. In particular, the guarantee role of the National Broadcasting Council (KRRiT) has been removed from the appointment procedures. Due to these impositions, KRRiT officially complained and the heads of the TPV TV channels resigned in protest.

This chain of events represents a threat to essential values, media pluralism and freedom, that are at the basis of the European Union construction and are shared by the constitutional traditions of EU member states which require that public service media maintain a reasonable level of independence from political and/or economic interference.

Notably, “Independence of PSM from governmental control” is an indicator of the Media Pluralism Monitor (MPM), the tool, developed by the CMPF, that measures and assesses the risks for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom in a given country. Amongst some other variables, such as financial independence of the PSM from discretional governmental funds, the risk for this indicator is measured taking into account the fairness of the procedures of appointment of the board of management of PSM and the degree of involvement of the government. The MPM studies show that, so far, most European Countries complied with this principle.

On 13 January the European Commission meets in Brussels to discuss the new Polish law and decide whether to apply the so-called rule of law mechanism, as shaped by the 2014 EC communication on the rule of law framework. The rule of law mechanism consists of a three step procedure: a commission assessment of the systemic threat to the rule of law in a given country, a commission recommendation to the Member State, and a follow-up based on the state’s response. In the unfortunate case that there is no satisfactory follow-up to the recommendation by the Member State, the Commission could subsequently activate one of the sanction mechanisms set out in Article 7 TEU.

This case signals a severe worsening of the situation of pluralism and freedom of the media in Poland. It confirms the importance of continuous monitoring of the risks for media pluralism and media freedom even within the EU common borders and highlights, once more, the fundamental responsibility of EU Institutions (Commission, Council and Parliament) in preserving a common democratic space.

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