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Polish officials defend state media law amid EU backlash

The EU has said it will debate a controversial media law approved recently in Poland's parliament. Warsaw officials have defended the move, accusing Brussels of double standards.

A controversial state media law passed by the Polish parliament is now the subject of a heated debate between Brussels and Warsaw.

Politicians pushed the bill through parliament in late December. If approved by President Andrzej Duda (pictured), who could sign it into law soon, the amendment would allow Warsaw to hand-pick officials overseeing state-run news organizations. Several international observers, including Reporters Without Borders, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) and the Association of European Journalists (AEJ), have all criticized the move, arguing it could curtail freedom of speech by bringing public broadcasters under state control.

On Sunday, the European Commission announced it would debate the law at a meeting in Brussels on January 13. Earlier, the Commission's vice president, Frans Timmermans, had sent two letters to Warsaw expressing the EU's concerns over the law. The announcement came the same day EU Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society Günther Oettinger told the German newspaper "Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung" that Brussels should address the issue.

'A world of bikers and vegetarians'

Portrait of Waszczykowski in Berlin

Polish Foreign Minister Waszczykowski

Also on Sunday, Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski told German tabloid "Bild" that he was surprised to have received Timmermans' letter, suggesting there was a double-standard behind Brussels' concern over the new law.

"In the past eight years there was no pluralism in the public media [in Poland] and no EU Commissioner deplored it," the foreign minister said.

Waszczykowski went on to say that he wanted to cure Poland of "some diseases," referring to a world created under the previous left-wing government, a world of "bikers and vegetarians," which the politician said "had nothing more to do with traditional Polish values."

A spokesman for Duda also defended the law, insisting that under the former pro-EU government state broadcasters were a "one-party media."

Domestic backlash

A sign showing the logo of broadcaster TVP

State broadcaster TVP

This past weekend, four senior members of Poland's public broadcaster TVP resigned in connection with the new law. The daily newspaper "Gazeta Wyborcza" reported that the managers were likely anticipating their dismissals.

Tomazs Lis, one of Poland's most recognized journalists, announced his resignation via Facebook with the caption "Fear not."

"No one can force Poland to shut its mouth," he wrote. "No one can force me to shut my mouth."

blc/se (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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