EU Probing Poland Over Controversial Media Law

EU Commissioner Gunther Oettinger

The Eastern European country's conservative government has pushed through legislation allowing it to appoint the heads of the country's state TV and radio stations.

In an unprecedented move, the European Commission has launched an inquiry into controversial legislation in Poland, which gives Warsaw's conservative government more power over the Eastern European country's media.

The investigation will examine whether the move by Poland's ruling Law and Justice Party violates the EU's rule of law. Poland's president Andrzej Duda approved the new law last month, overruling the country's highest court to allow the government to appoint the heads of public TV and radio stations, as well as choose some constitutional court judges.

Four channel directors at main public broadcaster TVP resigned earlier this month in protest of the government's media laws.

Members of the European Commission, the EU's executive body, have been critical of the Law and Justice Party since it took power after elections in October. EU commissioner Gunther Oettinger has accused Poland of threatening "common European values.”

If the EU inquiry finds that Poland has violated European rule of law, the commission could theoretically strip Poland of its voting rights in the EU. Most observers, however, think this is unlikely and that the EU simply wants to apply pressure on Warsaw to roll back some of the measures.

Announcing the inquiry, European Commission vice president Frans Timmermans stressed the move was intended to “clarify the facts in an objective way” and “start a dialogue with Polish authorities without prejudging” the outcome.

Poland’s prime minister Beata Szydlo has denied her government violated democratic norms, claiming the European Commission was handling “problems that don’t exist.” Thousands of Poles in recent weeks have protested against the changes to the media law, fearing the move will turn TVP into a government propaganda channel.

The Polish justice minister has also reacted against the EU move, comparing the increased scrutiny to Nazi occupation of Poland during World War II.

The EU rule of law mechanism is new. It was drawn up in 2014 after Hungary's right-wing government pushed through constitutional changes and altered the country's media law.