Polish president signs controversial media law

Poland's president on Thursday signed a controversial new media law that will give the government greater power over public broadcasters, despite concerns from the European Union.

The legislation was passed by both houses of parliament, but required President Andrzej Duda's signature to take effect. The law has drawn widespread criticism, including from the European Broadcasting Union and several journalism watchdogs.

Presidential aide Malgorzata Sadurska, who made the announcement, said the law would make it possible to have "credible and objective national media."

In Amsterdam, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said the EU's executive was preparing procedures against Poland over the law.

The legislation defines public broadcasters TVP and Polish Radio as "national cultural institutes," giving the government the power to appoint new executives. The mandate of the current directors is to expire with immediate effect.

The EU's executive is to discuss the situation in Poland at its next meeting of commissioners on January 13. Duda is scheduled to visit Brussels later this month.

It is not the first law by the new national conservative government - which took office in November - to raise eyebrows in Brussels, where observers say state institutions are being sidelined because of the government's political priorities.

Last month, the commission also expressed concern about planned reforms to the constitutional court.

Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo said earlier in the day that her country will present a "calm, detailed description of the facts" when it meets with EU representatives Friday to discuss the bloc's concerns about recent Polish policy shifts.

"We'll clean up the lies that, from our standpoint, are the result of the hysteria that have been primarily put forward by the current members of the opposition," she said during a speech in the central Polish city of Radom.

Last week, EU commission Vice President Frans Timmermans wrote to Warsaw requesting information on the new media law, following an earlier letter over the constitutional court reforms.

"We are quietly awaiting their response to the letters. We haven't had their answer yet," Timmermans said Thursday.

If the commission finds that the Polish measures present a serious threat to the rule of law, it can initiate a dialogue with Warsaw and follow this up with recommendations, under a mechanism introduced in 2014.

Warsaw could ultimately face a suspension of EU voting rights, under Article 7 of the bloc's treaty. This has previously been described as the "nuclear" option to bring member states in line with fundamental EU values.

"We are the beginning of the procedure, the one we invented back in 2014," Juncker said during a visit to Amsterdam marking the start of the Dutch EU presidency, while adding that he did not want to speculate over "further consequences" entailed by Article 7.

"I don't think that we will come to that point," Juncker added, expressing confidence in the dialogue with Warsaw.

"Let's not overdramatize. ... We are not bashing Poland," he stressed, noting the importance of "friendly and good relations" with Warsaw.

There are concerns that Poland's conservative government could become a thorn in the side for Brussels at a time when unity is required to tackle pressing issues such as the EU's migration crisis.

Article 7 of the EU's Lisbon Treaty has never been used against a member state, but politicians have previously called for applying it to Hungary and Romania, amid concerns that they were violating EU laws.

Last update: Fri, 24/06/2016 - 08:49
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