Polish lawmakers, residents protest media rules changes
WARSAW: Thousands of Warsaw residents joined in a spontaneous protest in front of Poland’s parliament against a plan by the conservative ruling party to limit reporters’ access to legislators. Mobilized by the civic movement, the Committee for the Defense of Democracy, or KOD, the crowd on Friday waved white-and-red national flags and chanted “Free media!” in cold winter weather.
Radek Sikorski, a former foreign minister, was among the government critics who addressed the protest, harshly denouncing Poland’s political direction under Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the powerful chairman of the ruling Law and Justice party that is introducing many sweeping changes.
Earlier Friday, inside the parliament’s session hall, a large group of liberal opposition lawmakers protested the new media rules by standing on and around the speaker’s podium for several hours. They blocked a vote on the 2017 state budget. The budget vote was eventually taken by the ruling party’s lawmakers in another hall, but the opposition questioned its legality. It was the most serious crisis in Poland’s parliament in many years.
“The political crisis has grown more aggravated,” Law and Justice lawmaker Tadeusz Cymanski said. The crowd blocked lawmakers’ cars, preventing them from leaving the parliament area. After a few hours, police had to make way for them, as the crowd chanted “We will win!” At the heart of the issue was free access to information. In the 27 years of Poland’s democracy, journalists have been a constant presence in the parliament’s halls. Banned from the main assembly room, they can grab politicians for interviews in the halls.