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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » August 13, 2008
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Government Defeated on Media Bill
August 13, 2008   
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The government has failed to muster the numbers to overturn a presidential veto to its controversial bill to amend the public media law. The bill, a top priority for the ruling coalition, will not be endorsed in its present form.

The lower house of parliament, the Sejm, upheld president Lech Kaczyński's veto to the Civic Platform's (PO) bill to amend the public media law during the final pre-holiday parliamentary session July 25. The Polish constitution required that the ruling PO-Polish People's Party (PSL) coalition garner the support of 60 percent, or 269, of the 447 deputies who voted if the veto were to be overturned. They only managed 245 with 160 voting against the motion and 42 abstaining.

Two hundred and eight PO deputies, 30 PSL, three Social Democracy Poland (SdPl)-New Left, three Democratic Caucus one German Minority deputy voted in favor. The largest opposition party, Law and Justice (PiS), and two independents voted against the motion. Thirty seven leftist deputies and five independents abstained. Five deputies from the Left were absent.

The bill would have given the government the power to recall National Radio and Television Council (KRRiT) members, as well as directors of Poland's public television and radio authorities, before their terms had expired. The bill would also have limited the powers of the KRRiT substantially by transferring its authority to grant licenses and supervise broadcasters to the Electronic Communications Office and by introducing new procedures for appointing KRRiT members. Supervisory and managing board directors for public radio and television would similarly have been subject to new procedures.

The Treasury minister would also have had the power to dismiss public radio and television directors in specific circumstances at AGMs.

Before the vote President Lech Kaczyński defended his veto by saying the bill, had it become law, would have further commercialized Poland's public media and limited their public role. Kaczyński said he vetoed the bill because it would have "distorted media balance and significantly hamstrung the media's ability to fulfill its public mission."

Iwona ¦ledzińska-Katarasińska (PO), who sits on the Sejm's Culture Committee, said the bill had several advantages like opening up executive positions in public media to competition and expanding the KRRiT board from five to seven so as to more evenly balance presidential and prime ministerial appointees. ¦ledzińska-Katarasińska also defended the provisions that would have given the Treasury minister the power to dismiss public media directors at AGMs in specific circumstances, being at pains to point out that this was a "fundamental right of ownership."

Former KRRiT head Elżbieta Kruk (PiS) said the amendment was intended to bring about "the disappearance of public media and hand over the entire electronic media market to international media corporations."

The vote was preceded by extensive talks between the PO and opposition leftists whose votes they needed. The leftists had expected the PO to postpone the vote until September so as to give them more time to thrash out an agreement. PO caucus head Zbigniew Chlebowski, however, emerged from a meeting with leftist deputies saying there had been no agreement to postpone the vote.

L.Ż., W.Ż.
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