EU urges Poles to talk about new media laws as journalists protest

by Jane Whyatt
Poland’s new government is under intense pressure from the EU Commission and from Europe’s journalists and media freedom campaigns. They fear the new media law aims to get rid of critical journalists and hand power over the national public broadcasting channel TVP directly to the ruling Law and Order Party.

EU Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans told a press conference in Brussels that the Commission’s College had debated the Polish situation in relation to the Rule of Law directive, which governs all member states. He is the EU Vice President for Fundamental Rights.

We need to start a dialogue. We have received a rather harsh letter but we are ready to talk to the Polish government at any time, at their convenience - in Warsaw or in Brussels

Timmermans said.

Critical journalists who were sceptical about the effectiveness of this approach asked repeatedly how a dialogue would change things. Timmermans refused to be more specific or to speculate about possible sanctions. Polish TV journalists Magdalena Sobkowiak from TVP  - the public broadcaster at the centre of the row - and TVN’s Marek Solokowski were at the press conference, but declined to comment. They told ECPMF’s reporter that they were not allowed to make statements on behalf of the TV stations.

EU Commission press spokesperson Marie Frenay explained that not only the Rule of Law but also the Audio Visual Directive could be used to invoke sanctions against Member States who do not comply. But she admitted that this has not yet happened in practice, so it is not clear how it might work.

Protest at Polish embassy Belgium Protest at Polish embassy Belgium (photo: EFJ)

As the EU press corps questioned Timmermans, other journalists took direct action on the other side of town. The Polish Embassy in Brussels was the target of a joint protest by Reporters without Borders, the European Federation of Journalists and other supporters of media freedom.

Meanwhile the European Broadcasting Union has condemned Poland’s new laws, prompting reports that the Poles could be excluded from the Eurovision Song Contest. The EBU is the transnational body for public service broadcasters and produces the glitzy musical competition in May each year. At the 2015 finals in Poland's eighteenth Eurovision appearance, "In the Name of Love" finished in twenty-third place, receiving 10 points. This year’s contest, scheduled for 14th May in Sweden, is only open to EBU members and the union could potentially decide to exclude Poland.