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HFHR opinion on National Media Act

The Helsinki Foundation has prepared an opinion on the legislative overhaul package transforming public media into national media.

In the opinion, the HFHR commented on statutory provisions but also made note of the manner in which the new laws had been prepared. The amendment was resubmitted as a deputy-sponsored bill and not a government bill, which means that it was not necessary to present it to public consultation prior to the bill’s tabling in Parliament. The amendment was submitted in this way despite previous assurances made by the ruling majority, which declared that the public would be given more opportunities to become involved in further legislative stages of the process of reforming public media. “Without doubt, the absence of public consultation and a non-transparent way in which the laws were prepared are alone sufficient to cause negative reception of the proposed changes, even though individual elements of the reform can be assessed positively”, reads the opinion.

The HFHR also expressed concerns over the bill’s definition of national broadcasters’ “public mission”. Although any attempt to introduce such a definition to a law should be assessed positively, the proposed definition should refer more directly to pluralism, independence and political impartiality of public media. Further controversy is raised by the absence of a prohibition of hate speech and the use of a number of ambiguous terms such as “national tradition” or “patriotic values”.

“At the same time we are concerned by the fact that the bill obliges public media outlets to present position statements issued by the Speaker of the Sejm, Speaker of the Senate, President of Poland and Prime Minister. Such extensive powers of public authorities may call into question editorial independence of public media. It would be thus reasonable to limit the above obligation to ‘statements on important matters of the state’, which are not an expression of partisan views of public officials”, says Dominika Bychawska-Siniarska, a lawyer of the HFHR.

Another controversial issue is the planned establishment of the Council of National Media. Creation of this body can be perceived as an attempt to circumvent the Constitution and undermine the position of the National Broadcasting Council (NBC), a constitutional body. Furthermore, regulations governing the Council of National Media fail short of addressing the main alleged deficiency of the NBC, namely its extensive politicisation. The bill does not guarantee that the Council of National Media, whose members are appointed by the Sejm, Senate and the President, remains politically impartial.

The HFHR also argued that the bill fails to keep in line with technical progress, for instance the growth of the Internet as a communication channel. A law on public media should govern the operations of public broadcasters’ online platforms and attempt to develop unified rules applicable to such operations.

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