Media ownership, education on agenda for Poland’s lawmakers
POLAND’S parliament gets back to work on Tuesday following its summer break, launching what is widely expected to be a raucous autumn of political change under the ruling nationalist-conservative Law and Justice party. These are some of the main issues the party has promised to tackle:
NATIONALISING THE MEDIA
After communism collapsed in 1989, publishers and broadcasters from Germany and other Western countries established a dominant role in Poland and media markets elsewhere in Central Europe.
Law and Justice says the number of foreign-owned media constitute a dangerous monopoly that Western European nations would never allow. The party is working on a law that would drastically limit foreign ownership of newspapers, magazines and other news outlets. A “de-concentration” is needed “for the good of Poland and the good of citizens,” party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski said.
Among the companies at risk are Swiss-German venture Ringier Axel Springer Media, which owns the widely read tabloid Fakt and the Polish versions of Newsweek and Forbes; German media houses Bauer Media Group, Burda and Verlagsgruppe Passau; and the American company Scripps Networks Interactive, owner of TVN, which produces independent and popular news programming. Scripps itself was recently bought by another U.S. company, Discovery.
Critics fear that Law and Justice — after turning public media into a party propaganda organ — is trying to seize control of private media to silence critical voices.
TAKING CONTROL OF THE COURTS
Law and Justice already achieved a partial overhaul of Poland’s court system, an effort it said was needed to make the courts more efficient and remove “many pathologies” left over from communism. Opponents see a power grab as the changes give the party greater control over the courts.
So far, the party has packed the Constitutional Tribunal with its loyalists in a legally dubious way. It has also given the Justice Minister, who is also the Prosecutor General, the power to name the heads of all the ordinary courts in the country.
Further changes, however, were blocked in July by President Andrzej Duda, who was elected on the Law and Justice ticket in 2015 but has since been at odds with party leaders.
This fall both the parliament and the president are expected to present new versions of the two vetoed bills. One of the key issues at stake is whether the party will also be able to assert its control over the Supreme Court, whose responsibilities involve confirming election results.
NEW SCHOOLS, NEW PATRIOTS
Law and Justice is promoting a reorganization of the educational system to instill greater patriotism in young Poles. The Education Ministry says it wants to encourage the values of “fatherland, nation, state,” among others. One proposed change would remove ancient Greek and Roman history from the 4th grade curriculum to focus exclusively on Polish history at that stage.
The multi-year transition also would phase out middle schools and return to a system of eight years of primary school followed by high school. Some teachers and principals fear they will lose their jobs, while critics worry the patriotic curriculum will create a more inward-looking and less tolerant mindset among Polish youth. The party is still hammering out changes to the high-school curriculum. Many are expected to be contested.
RELATIONS WITH EUROPEAN POWERS
As the party pushes its domestic legislative agenda, it also must manage relationships with other European powers that have become strained in recent months.
The main standoff pits Poland against the European Union. Key areas of dispute are Law and Justice’s judicial changes and approval of large-scale logging in an ancient forest. Poland’s refusal to accept any refugees under an EU-wide resettlement plan also has further inflamed the tension.
Polish leaders also have bickered with French President Emmanuel Macron, who wants to stem the flow of lower-paid workers from other EU countries to France. And the government in Warsaw has threatened to bill Germany in coming months for Nazi’s destruction of Poland during World War II.
leader of the ruling Law and Justice party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski reacts after lawmakers voted to approve a law on court control in the parliament in Warsaw, Poland.