December 18, 2016 / 12:11 PM / 3 years ago

Polish leaders try to defuse media row on third day of protests

WARSAW (Reuters) - Street protests and a sit-in by opposition lawmakers against Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party over its proposals to curb media access to parliament extended to a third day on Sunday as leading politicians scrambled to defuse the row.

Since coming to power in late 2015, Poland’s PiS-led government has repeatedly come under fire at home and from Brussels for what critics say are undemocratic moves designed to tighten its grip on power, including taking greater control of state media and changes to the constitutional court.

But proposed new rules restricting the media’s access to parliament have triggered the biggest political standoff between the conservative PiS and the more liberal opposition yet. Efforts to find a compromise, including those by powerful PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, have not been successful.

PiS ally President Andrzej Duda met several opposition leaders on Sunday in a bid to find a resolution and was due to meet the head of the Civil Platform (PO), Poland’s largest opposition party, later on in the day, his spokesman said at a news conference.

At a pro-PiS rally in Warsaw, First Deputy Prime Minister Piotr Glinski told supporters the party would not heed calls by some opposition members to concede on the new rules.

“Let us not get provoked,” Glinski said. “The primary weapon of the opposition is urging emotional conflict, hatred. That’s what happened in parliament, it was a build-up of negative emotions.”

The speaker of the upper house of parliament, Stanislaw Karczewski, is due to meet media representatives on Monday to discuss concrete proposals, he was cited as telling media late on Saturday, after an initial meeting ordered by Kaczynski failed to produce results.

Policemen stand guard during the third day of a protest outside the Parliament building in Warsaw, Poland December 18, 2016. Agencja Gazeta/Franciszek Mazur/via REUTERS

In Warsaw, thousands of protesters gathered first in front of constitutional court before moving on to parliament. The constitutional court has been the target of some of the PiS’ most disputed moves, including changes to its sitting judges and to its operating rules.

The crowd carried banners expressing support for the outgoing head of the court, Andrzej Rzeplinski, whose term is ending on Tuesday.

Meanwhile a crowd of PiS supporters gathered in front of the presidential palace, carrying Polish white and red flags and chanting “God, honor and motherland”. The PiS government remains popular with many Poles keen on its promises of higher welfare, more Catholic values in public life and a tougher stance toward Brussels and Russia.


Critics see the curbs on media coverage of parliament as yet another attempt by PiS to widen its control. If implemented as planned on Jan. 1, all recording of parliamentary sessions would be banned except by five selected television stations and the number of journalists allowed in the building would be limited to two per media outlet.

Duda’s spokesman also said the president had ordered a legal analysis of Friday’s events in parliament. When opposition members began their protest that day, they blocked the plenary hall podium ahead of a budget vote. PiS lawmakers moved the vote to another hall, sparking accusations that they had passed the 2017 budget illegally.

“We don’t know if there were enough deputies for a quorum,” said Ryszard Petru, head of another opposition grouping, the liberal Nowoczesna.

Slideshow (6 Images)

Prime Minister Beata Szydlo dismissed the sit-in as frustration by parties that lost an election in 2015 after eight years in government.

However, there were signs of a more conciliatory approach from her office on Sunday.

“It might be necessary ... to admit that our politicians have inadequately communicated the proposed changes to the journalists, to our society and the opposition used this as a pretext,” Paweł Szefernaker, the secretary of state in the Chancellery of the Prime Minister, told the Radio ZET station.

Writing by Lidia Kelly and Justyna Pawlak; Editing by Keith Weir and Raissa Kasolowsky

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