Poland drops controversial media proposals after protests

Polish President Andrzej Duda of the conservative Law and Justice party. [Piotr Drabik /Flickr]

Polish President Andrzej Duda yesterday (19 December) announced that the governing conservatives have scrapped controversial proposals to restrict media access in parliament that had fuelled opposition outcry and street demonstrations.

But while the governing Law and Justice party (PiS) appeared to offer a compromise on the media rules, a row over a budget vote deemed “illegal” by the opposition intensified.

The PiS “has abandoned its (media) proposal which triggered the row we saw in parliament… Everything has been reset,” Duda said in an interview with Poland’s TVP public broadcaster.

Senate speaker Stanislaw Karczewski, a PiS member, earlier assured journalists that the old media rules would remain in place for the time being. He said he would present new proposals by 6 January.

Tusk rallies against 'undermining of democracy’ in Poland as protests continue

European Council President Donald Tusk weighed in on Poland’s political crisis on Saturday (17 December), urging the ruling party to respect the constitution, the voters and the democratic process, as two days of anti-government protests spread from Warsaw to two other cities.

Parliament protest

Duda called on opposition lawmakers, who have been occupying the parliament since Friday (16 December), to “offer a goodwill gesture” and cease their protest.

“I’m calling for just a little reflection and calm because this is an important domestic issue. Plus the holiday season is upon us and Poles are concerned by the situation. I want the problem resolved,” he said.

Thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets since Friday in Warsaw and other parts of the country in the latest action against PiS moves deemed anti-democratic by its opponents.

Dozens of opposition MPs seized parliament’s main chamber and protesters blocked the exits to the building in a show of anger.

Thousands of people – grouped in a popular movement called the Committee for the Defence of Democracy – rallied outside parliament in support of the opposition MPs until late Sunday.

A smaller pro-government rally took place outside the presidential palace.

In Krakow on Sunday, police removed protesters who lay on the ground to block the car of influential PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński, who was visiting the grave of his twin brother, former president Lech Kaczyński who died in a plane crash in Russia in 2010.

Thousands protest against Polish government on martial law's anniversary

Thousands marched across Poland’s capital yesterday (13 December) to protest the policies of the current government on the 35th anniversary of the martial law crackdown by the former communist regime.

‘Illegal’ budget vote

The political crisis was triggered last week by PiS plans to restrict access to the parliament’s press gallery to only two journalists for every media outlet, and ban them from shooting still pictures or video.

The moves would have prevented the media from recording images of lawmakers when they broke the rules, for example by voting for an absent colleague.

The PiS said it was seeking to ensure a comfortable working environment for both lawmakers and journalists.

Poland moves to limit media access to parliament

A Polish plan to curb media access to parliament spurred widespread protests by non-state media on Friday (16 December), amid concern the government is intent on curtailing freedom of press.

Opposition lawmakers also called for a re-run of a parliament vote on next year’s budget, which they claim was approved illegally when it was held in another part of parliament after the opposition takeover of the main chamber.

The Senate is due to examine the budget today.

Since taking office in November last year, the PiS has come under fire over a string of controversial measures including tightening control over the media and pushing through changes to the constitutional court which led to a standoff with the European Union.

Monday is the last day in office of the outgoing president of the constitutional court, Andrzej Rzeplinski, a symbol of resistance to the government.

The question of his successor has become another bone of contention between the court and the PiS-dominated parliament.

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