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Thursday, November 30, 2023

Media freedom in Poland. 15 recommendations from Reporters Without Borders to improve the situation

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Reporters Without Borders (RSF), in cooperation with Polish experts, has prepared 15 recommendations for the authorities elected after the elections in Poland, aimed at improving the situation in the field of media freedom in our country. The organization notes that Polish public media have become a political communication tool for the authorities, and independent private media are stigmatized.

Five days before elections parliamentary meetings in Poland, the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) organization presented 15 recommendations aimed at improving the situation in the field of media freedom in our country. IN World Press Freedom Index 2023 (World Press Freedom Index) Poland took 57th place out of 180 countries. Therefore, it was placed 5th from the bottom in the European Union – the situation in this respect is worse only in Bulgariain Hungary, Malta and in Greece.

The recommendations were created in cooperation with Polish experts and media representatives. As RSF emphasizes, they are addressed to members of the future elected parliament and government. As indicated, “they constitute an opportunity to break the vicious circle of polarization” in the media, perpetuated by the current authorities. “By implementing RSF’s proposals on media freedom, Poland can regain the place its citizens deserve: in the democratic core of Europe,” we read in the document.

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Recommendations proposed by Reporters Without Borders

RSF recalls that after the Polish government “transformed public media into political communication tools,” it is trying to “take control of private media or create obstacles to independent journalism.” As indicated, the policy of “re-Polonization” has already been applied to the Polska Press media group through its purchase by a state-controlled company. “Independent media experience unjustified delays in granting licenses by the National Broadcasting Council”, under the pretext of protecting the Polish “reason of state”, financial penalties are imposed (including on Radio Zet and TOK FM), opposition candidates are denied by Polska Press publication of their election advertisements, and independent stations such as TVN are discriminated against in terms of access to, among others, public information – lists the organization.

RSF has developed 15 recommendations that, according to the organization, will improve the situation in the Polish media:

1. Adoption of a comprehensive law on public media, guaranteeing their independence from political parties, impartiality and internal pluralism.

2. Increasing transparency and reducing political influence on supervision, financing and procedures for appointing management of public media, including by increasing the role of civil society and experts.

3. Implementation of the judgment of the Constitutional Tribunal of December 13, 2016, stating that the exclusion of the participation of the National Broadcasting Council (National Broadcasting Council) in the procedure of appointing and dismissing members of the management boards and members of the supervisory boards of public radio and television companies is inconsistent with the Constitution.

4. Adaptation of existing law to the above judgment, including the liquidation of the National Media Council elected by the Parliament.

5. Strengthening transparency, introducing a collegial decision-making system and avoiding arbitrary delays in granting licenses to the media and in investigating violations of the law by the National Broadcasting Council.

6. Refraining from arbitrary investigations and sanctions against private media and removing the imprecise concept of “reasons of state” from Art. 18 of the Broadcasting Act as the basis for such activities.

7. Immediate abolition of the policy of “re-Polonization” of the media and withdrawal of state and state-controlled companies’ investments in the media ownership structure.

8. Providing in the act that media controlled by local governments must be clearly marked as political communication.

9. Establishing a transparent and fair system for the distribution of public advertising and media funds, including through application European standards of journalistic conduct, such as the Journalism Trust Initiative (JTI), a mechanism developed by RSF to identify credible journalism.

10. Ensure that all private and public media have access to government and party officials, including by responding favorably and in a timely manner to their invitations to participate in programs and to their requests for information.

11. Fully implement the European Commission’s 2022 recommendations on SLAPP litigation, including introducing the possibility of early dismissal of abusive lawsuits, providing assistance to journalists facing such lawsuits, and introducing appropriate training for prosecutors and judges.

12. Reform of the Penal Code, including the removal of prison sentences and excessive fines for slander (Article 212), for publicly insulting the President of the Republic of Poland (Article 135.2), for insulting a public official (Article 226) and the abolition of penalties for “insulting religious feelings” or at least the removal of the prison sentence for this act (Article 196).

13. Establishing safeguards for journalists in connection with the recent adoption of amendments to the Criminal Code, which extend the scope of crimes to include those committed “using an information system, an ICT system or an ICT network”, in particular by taking into account the need to demonstrate their intention to act to the detriment of the state beyond the the effect of such action (Article 112a) and by ensuring that journalists will not be prosecuted for the performance of their official duties solely on the basis of the argument that they are “taking part in the activities of a foreign intelligence service” (Article 130). The unclear wording of the legislative amendments should be clarified to ensure that they do not serve to impose restrictions on journalistic activities.

14. Fully apply the recommendation adopted by the European Commission in 2021 on ensuring the protection, security and empowerment of journalists and other media workers in the EU, including by developing a security protocol for protests and refraining from disproportionate restrictions on reporters’ access to zones where tensions occur.

15. Initiating a structured dialogue between the police and journalists to develop procedures to protect journalists targeted by online attacks and for their reporting on issues related to corruption, organized crime or terrorism.

Main photo source: Adobe Stock

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