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HFHR issues opinion on amendment to Broadcasting Act

According to the Helsinki Foundation, the amendment to the Broadcasting Act recently adopted by the Sejm may lead to even greater politicisation of public media, and – as such – constitutes a threat to the freedom of expression.

The HFHR has presented an opinion on the proposed law’s compliance with human rights standards. The new Act changes the rules that govern appointments and dismissals of board members in public media outlets. In particular, the Act introduces the following regulations:

• The minister responsible for the State Treasury will have the power to appoint and dismiss members of public media organisations’ management and supervisory boards.
• Public media senior officials will no longer be selected through open and public competition procedures.
• Members of the governing bodies of public media organisations will no longer serve a certain term of office.
• The role of the National Broadcasting Council will be limited.
• As of the Act’s entry into force, the incumbent senior management of TVP S.A. and Polskie Radio S.A., the state-operated TV and radio organisations, will be ousted from office.

According to the HFHR, the proposed piece of legislation strengthens the dependency of public media on the government and puts the pluralism of public media into jeopardy. In consequence, this may lead to the boosting of the executive’s influence on the contents presented in public media, which will enable the ruling majority to align the broadcast content to the party lines. “The proposed regulations are contrary to a basic European standard which provides that public media must be free from political pressure to the largest possible extent”, reads the opinion.

“In our statement we emphasise that despite promises, the proposed law does not contribute to the improvement of the functioning of public media. Instead, this may only exacerbate the existing problems that affect the work of state broadcasters”, says Dorota Głowacka, a lawyer with the HFHR. “If enacted, the proposed new law will limit the transparency of procedures used to appoint governing bodies of public media organisations, which will prevent the public from effectively overseeing the process. In consequence, the draft law is conducive to turning public media into the ruling party’s mouthpieces in public debate”, Ms Głowacka adds.

The Helsinki Foundation also points out that despite its importance and far-reaching consequences for a democratic society, the planned overhaul of public media has not been submitted to any public consultations, and also observed that the legislative works were conducted in a way that prevented stakeholders from thoroughly reviewing the law’s content and presenting comments. The HFHR is also concerned with the fact that the Act is to become effective upon publication.

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