By Isla Lamont
Poland’s newly elected Law and Justice Party has brought to the floor an amendment that would grant almost complete state control of the public media.
If the new legislation passes, it would be the first time the government has had this level of authority over public media since the fall of communism in 1989. The amendment was pushed through parliament in merely two days, and is waiting to be signed in to law by President Andrzej Duda, also of the Law and Justice Party.
The European Union has spoken out against these reforms. Domestically, the change is viewed unfavorably. Poland’s foreign and justice ministers were contacted by the deputy head of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, to express his concern. The European Broadcasting Union (EBU), an alliance of public service broadcasters, wrote to Duda as well, informing him of their dissent.
In the letter, EBU Director Ingrid Deltenre wrote, “The haste with which this new law has been rushed through parliament strikes a discordant note about Poland and its respect for the rule of law and the democratic process.”
BBC reports that the heads of Poland’s public television channels resigned in protest on 31 December.
In response to the backlash, the government explained that the party plans “to go further with its media reform, to transform public TV and radio into ‘national institutions of culture.'”
Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszcyzkowski explained that the government was acting as a “counterbalance” for some privately owned media broadcasters who aired content that was allegedly biased against the conservative Polish government. Waszcyzkowski said in an interview, “The previous government carried out a leftist program [in the public media]. It was as if the world was according to a Marxist model which has to automatically develop in one direction only–a new mixture of cultures and races, a world made up of cyclists and vegetarians who only use renewable energy and fight all forms of religion.”
The Law and Justice Party is a far-right group and was elected based on a platform of reforms that would move wealth from the wealthy down to the working class. The average net income for a Polish family is only 7,800 euros.
The party first entered the sphere of public scrutiny when it made the “grotesquely illegal” act of passing a resolution that invalidated the election of five judges to the Constitutional Court, whom the Court chose themselves. Afterwards, Duda swore in four new judges of his choosing at midnight and in secrecy.
Trying to stack the Constitutional Court with fellow party members is not a new occurrence. The Court is the last branch of Polish government that passes legislation, and the Law and Justice Party currently does not have the majority.
The rapid expansion of state powers concerns most political analysts and Polish citizens. An article by Politico states, “[Law and Justice’s] actions in its first two weeks in power heighten the worries that Poland may follow the “illiberal democracy” path set by Hungary under its populist Prime Minister Viktor Orban.”
As reported by the BBC, other reforms passed by the Law and Justice Party less than five months into their new term include changing the “management of the country’s largest state-controlled companies,” and passing laws dictating the Constitutional Court and allowing Law and Justice to fire and replace “more than 1,600 civil service directors, who are apolitical.”
The European Commission has called for a political debate regarding these new laws on January 13, according to the Financial Times.