Press freedom groups file complaint over Polish media law

4th January 2016, Comments 0 comments

A coalition of press freedom groups filed a complaint on Monday with Europe's top human rights watchdog claiming that a contentious new Polish law threatens media independence.

The legislation, which would give Poland's conservative government the power to directly appoint the heads of public broadcasters, was pushed through parliament late last month despite EU concern and condemnation from rights watchdogs.

These changes would be "wholly unacceptable in a genuine democracy," the four associations, including the Association of European Journalists (AEJ) and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), wrote in their complaint.

"The fundamental and drastic changes proposed were put before parliament to be voted on without the necessary inclusive public debate."

The media bill was approved on Wednesday, just two days after it was submitted to parliament, which is dominated by the Law and Justice (PiS) party of Jaroslaw Kaczynski following general elections in October.

To take effect, it must be passed by the PiS-controlled Senate and signed by President Andrzej Duda.

The complaint, which was also signed by the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), calls on the Polish government to abandon the legislation "at once".

Media "must remain independent of political or economic interference, and should be accountable and transparent as they have the obligation to serve the public in all its diversity," the complaint says.

Once a complaint is published, the Council of Europe sends it to the nation involved for a response. The council, which has 47 member states, can then react publicly or start a dialogue with the authorities concerned.

Under the proposed law, senior figures in public radio and television will in the future be appointed -- and sacked -- by the treasury minister, and no longer through contests by the National Broadcasting Council.

The European Commission said Sunday it would debate the rule of law in Poland this month in the first stage of a potentially punitive procedure in response to the legislation.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has placed an initial debate on the rule of law in Poland on the agenda of the commission's meeting on January 13.

© 2016 AFP

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