Polish media controls an attack on independence: broadcasters

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The new Polish government’s decision to take control of public radio and television is a worrying attack on media independence, the head of the European Broadcasting Union said on Thursday, joining a chorus of condemnation of the move.

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The comments came a day after the European Union began an unprecedented inquiry into whether the media policy and other changes breached its democratic principles, proceedings that could lead to sanctions on the bloc’s biggest eastern member.

The Polish government led by the socially conservative Law and Justice party (PiS) gave itself the right to appoint heads of state-run broadcasters after winning October elections on a Eurosceptic platform.

“We have a really clear and strong mandate to defend and protect public values. Two of them are now attacked in Poland: independence and pluralism,” Jean-Paul Philippot, the president of the EBU, an alliance of mainly public broadcasters, told Reuters in an interview.

“Every country in Europe (has) a different way to guarantee the independence of public broadcasters. And in Poland today, this protection, these barriers ... are now suppressed by this new law. So it’s a deep concern for us,” he added.

No one from the Polish government was immediately available for comment. But it has said before that the changes are meant to bring some balance back to what it sees as an overly critical media.

Party lawmakers and officials have said public broadcasts should do more to reflect national values.

The government’s changes have prompted protests, rattled investors and drawn accusations from rights activists that PiS is undermining democratic checks and balances in a country long seen as a bulwark of economic and political stability in Europe.

Philippot said there was “no debate... today” of responding to the new media powers by kicking Poland out of the Eurovision song contest that the EBU produces.

“The issue and the challenge today is the way in which we can guarantee independence of a real public broadcaster... The Eurovision is an entertainment show, which promotes some of our values. And that’s it,” Philippot said.

Writing by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Andrew Heavens