In a move widely panned by media watchdogs, Poland’s parliament Wednesday approved a new legislation that enables the government to replace the heads of state radio and television. Under the provisions of the proposed law, the public broadcasters — TVP and Polish Radio — will reportedly be redesignated as “national cultural institutes.”
“The introduction of a system whereby a government minister can appoint and dismiss at its own discretion the supervisory and management boards goes against basic principles and established standards of public service media governance throughout Europe,” a group of press freedom organizations, including Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists, said, in a joint statement released Wednesday. “We consider that the proposed measures will represent a retrograde step making more political, and thus less independent, the appointment of those in charge of the governance of public service media in Poland.”
According to the European Broadcasting Union — an alliance of European public broadcasters — TVP reaches over 90 percent of the Polish population every week, while Polish Radio reaches over half of the country’s population.
The proposed amendments to the country’s media law now need approval from the senate, which is also dominated by the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS), and the president. If the law takes effect, it would also give the treasury minister the authority to terminate the terms of the current management, appointed by the previous establishment, of the state broadcasters.
“I fear the hastily introduced changes will endanger the basic conditions of independence, objectivity and impartiality of public service broadcasters,” Dunja Mijatović, the representative on freedom of the media at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said, in a statement released Wednesday.
Since it came to power in October, after securing enough votes to govern alone, the PiS has repeatedly sought to overhaul the state media, reportedly accusing the broadcasters of being biased against it and of promoting “an unbearable excess of entertainment content.”
The move comes just days after President Andrzej Duda signed into law a controversial amendment to the functions and composition of the country’s top constitutional court. Critics accuse the government of attempting to undermine the institution and of hindering its ability to provide checks and balances to the legislature.