Council of Europe voices concern on Polish media laws

File photo. The then OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatovic (L) speaks during a press conference with State Secretary of the Ministry of Public Administration and Justice in charge of government communication Zoltan Kovacs (R) following their talks on the controversial new Hungarian media law in Budapest, Hungary, 18 January 2011. [Lajos Soos/EPA/EFE]

Europe’s top human rights body on Tuesday (16 March) voiced concern over two draft media laws in Poland and warned about the possible “suffocation of independent media outlets”.

Poland is currently debating a planned tax on advertising revenues that could affect many privately-owned media companies, as well as a draft law which the nationalist government says is intended to defend free speech rights for users of social media platforms.

The Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner Dunja Mijatovic said in a letter to Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki that the two laws “have the potential to significantly impact media freedom and pluralism”.

Poland saw an unprecedented media blackout last month in protest against the proposed tax, with private TV channels and radio stations going off air for 24 hours and newspapers publishing blacked-out front pages.

Poland's independent media went on strike

Independent media protested on Wednesday against government plans to impose a new tax on advertising revenue. Daily newspapers filled their entire front page with an appeal to authorities to back away from the idea, accompanied by a ‘Media without choice’ …

Mijatovic said she was concerned that the advertising tax would “lead to the suffocation of independent media outlets, thereby limiting the public’s ability to choose the content of their interest”.

“It must not have the effect of stifling a sector of society whose work is so essential to ensuring an open and diverse media environment,” she said.

The government has said revenues from the new tax would fund healthcare and the pandemic-hit culture sector, but it is revising the draft law following the criticism.

Mijatovic also said a new planned law to limit the power of social media platforms to delete content or ban users “raises concerns on a number of fronts”, suggesting it could allow more hate speech to remain online.

She said the draft was “overly broad” and warned that forcing social media companies to restore content they have removed “raises issues” because of what she called gaps in Poland’s laws against hate speech.

The commissioner also warned that the system of appointments to a new “freedom of speech council” planned under the proposed law “raises serious questions about its ability to withstand political pressures”.

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