KOD’s position on the new media bills. Presented during the public hearing before the parliamentary committee of culture and the media on 17 May 2016 by KOD Board Member Beata Kolis:
Dear Chairperson, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Free media is one of the fundamental principles of a democratic and lawful society. Free media is one of KOD’s (Committee for the Defence of Democracy) main slogans. Without full independence, media cannot play its role of a critical friend towards the government. Today there is no free public media in Poland. They are fully dependent on the government. Minister of Treasury appointing the CEOs of public media corporations is a way of ridiculing the independence of media. This has to change immediately.
But instead of ‘good change’, truly good, we have lexical exercises. Public media is being replaced by national media. This is a part of the plan being implemented by the government under the claim that the elected government represents the wishes of the entire nation. This is why everything that the government does is in agreement with the wishes of all. The proposed bill on national media cannot be passed in its current format. It lacks the required guarantees on fulfilling public mission, especially licensing regulation, which guarantees the delivery of the public mission. Public mission regulation lacks guarantees of openness, pluralism and outlook diversity. There is no reference to a ban on spreading hate speech and discrimination.
Public media will only ever be truly independent if politicians will not be be able to influence them. We cannot accept a public media bill that gives the right to appoint the members of the National Media Board by the Parliament, Senate and the President without clarifying who can apply for the post. The President, Parliament and the Senate should be electing members of the board from a pool of two or three candidates named by well-respected, independent institutions that are not linked to any political party. For example, university senates, conference of university deans or by the general assembly of Polish Academy of Sciences (PAN).
It must be clearly stated in the bill that the National Media Board must not be open to an active MP, senator or an MEP. A clause should also be included prohibiting any MP or MEP, whose term ended less than three years before the submission of their candidacy from running for the position of the CEO of the National Media Board. This would help to avoid a situation where posts in the national media are a ‘consolation prize’ for those who lost out in their party’s victory in the general elections and, at the same time, treated by the winning party as part of ‘share of the spoils’.
A suggestion that one seat on the Board would be reserved for a member appointed by the Parliament from three candidates nominated by the largest opposition party can only be regarded as a joke. This proposal is yet another proof of a complete lack of understanding of what is meant by the calls for the independent media . It is implying that the other 5 members of the Board will be selected on the recommendation of the party with a parliamentary majority, and in practice, connected with one political option. It is simply a guarantee of the parliamentary majority influencing the public media.
The independence of the media in the proposed bill is not helped by the greatly expanded role of the Speaker of the Parliament (who is usually a member of the majority party).The Speaker, single-handedly, would appoint the CEO of the National Media Board, confer the Board’s statute, approve a simplified Public Media Fund financial plan, and would have the right to select the sixth member of the Board, reserved for a candidate of the largest opposition party. This not only increases the risk of exerting political influence on the public media by the ruling majority, but also increases the risk of the paralysis of the Board, if the party with the parliamentary majority changes, and a representative, hostile to the members of the Board is appointed.
What is worrying, is the lack of any regulations that would allow the Board to be dismissed in case of mismanagement, violation of the law or unsatisfactory fulfilment of its statutory functions. The Board, in practice, during its 6-year tenure cannot be recalled and despite the fact that it submits an annual report on its activities to the Parliament, the Senate, the National Broadcasting Council, the Prime Minister and the President; only the Parliament, the Senate and the National Broadcasting Council may submit any feedback on these activities. The Board’s obligation is only to acknowledge and respond to the comments. There are no sanctions, however, even if the Council’s response is not implemented or there are justified objections to the way it is operating. In other words, the Board members are irremovable and can acts with impunity.
The tenure of the Board members and, in particular, its CEO with extremely broad competencies, prevents any state control over the use of media assets and funds obtained from audio-visual licence fee. Without the establishment of a truly effective mechanism of social control over the National Media Board activities, without transparent rules that apply the principle of arm’s length, one cannot talk of media independence. The aims and mission of the media, even if they are put into the most beautiful words, will only be a dead letter and the Polish Radio and TV will remain a government mouthpiece, just as they currently are.