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Public media reform, HFHR evaluates transitional law

On 7 June, Law and Justice deputies submitted a draft of the so-called Transitional Media Act to the Sejm. The HFHR has presented its opinion on this piece of legislation.
The Foundation once again noted that the bill had been hastily developed, which resulted in the absence of public consultations. Furthermore, the HFHR argued that some of the measures proposed in the draft law would not contribute to any material improvement in the functioning of the public media. The opinion emphasised that “the bill still fails to eliminate politicians’ decisive influence on the operation of and content delivered by the public media, which means that it does not address the risk of the public media being used as a tool to exert partisan pressure in public debate”.

The bill was presented because the amended version of the Broadcasting Act of 30 December 2015 (known as the “Small Media Act”) will soon lose its binding force. The main sponsor of the bill admitted that it would not be possible to keep the Small Media Act’s deadline (30 June 2016) for enacting a promised legislative framework for operations of the public media, known as the “Media Package”.

The recently submitted bill introduces the Council of National Media, a five-member body tasked with supervising the public media. Pursuant to the draft law, three members of the Council are to be elected by the Sejm and another two – by the President, from among the candidates appointed by the opposition. To an extent, the National Media Council will assume powers currently exercised by the National Broadcasting Council. The NMC will be authorised to appoint members of management boards and supervisory boards of state-owned broadcasting corporations and the executive team of the Polish Press Agency.

“We emphasise in the opinion that the way in which the Council’s operates and the way in which its members are elected do not guarantee the pluralism and full independence of this body. A particularly pressing issue is the lack of transparent election procedures and the fact that the new law does not actually obliges the President to appoint the members proposed by the opposition. The bill fails to give a detailed description of the expertise and skills required from the candidates for the Council’s members, and does not prohibit a member from holding a political or even parliamentary membership”, says Dorota Głowacka, an expert of the HFHR legal team.

The bill does not abandon the majority of the previously presented measures, which were adopted as part of the amendment to the Broadcasting Act of 30 December 2015 and were negatively assessed by the HFHR. Although the proposed transitional media law stipulates that the powers to appoint top public media figures, currently vested in the Minister of Treasury, are to be transferred to the National Media Council, it does not describe any personal criteria that candidates must meet and does not establish any procedure for their appointment such as an open and transparent contest of offers. “This means that relevant decisions of the National Media Council will be, to a significant extent, discretionary and subject to no public scrutiny whatsoever”, reads the opinion.

Moreover, the bill weakens the position of the National Broadcasting Council, by transferring some of the NBC’s powers to the National Media Council. This may arguably be deemed unconstitutional. The HFHR also notes in its opinion that many of the concerns previously expressed in respect of the proposed “media package” by, among others, NGOs and experts of the Council of Europe, remain valid for the transitional bill. Unfortunately, only few of these concerns were taken into account by the bill’s sponsor.

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