The marshal of the Polish Sejm, Marek Kuchciński, announced in mid-December that from the beginning of 2017 journalists would have limited ability to provide coverage of parliamentary sessions.
The changes would include, among others, a ban on video and sound recordings during plenary sessions (the only video recording allowed would be with official cameras installed in the plenary hall); limitations to the access of journalists to the parliamentary building; and limitations of the number of reporters from each station allowed to receive a permanent entry to the chamber.
The announcement led to protests by opposition members who blocked access to the podium in the chamber for a month, and spontaneous demonstrations that took place in front of the Parliament and that continued into the late-night hours.
The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (HFHR) called on the Parliament not to introduce such radical changes. HFHR urged that journalists "must be given the opportunity to effectively report on the events at the Sejm" and emphasized that "by introducing unreasonable and overly restrictive limitations on work of parliamentary correspondents, in practice makes them unable to perform key responsibilities of the media as a 'public watchdog.'"
After the strong reaction and opposition protests in front of the Parliament, Karczewski said that the proposed changes will not be introduced and the new proposals will be presented on January 6. However, these guidelines have not yet been presented.
HFHR prepared comments on the rules for journalists who work at the Polish Parliament. It presents international standards relevant for regulating rules for journalists’ work at the Sejm and formulates general recommendations in this respect.
The Constitutional Tribunal
After the events in the Sejm, the restrictions also affected the journalists who cover trials in the Constitutional Tribunal.
On January 10, judge Julia Przyłębska, whom the president recently appointed as the new chairperson of the country's Constitutional Tribunal, prohibited journalists entry to the Tribunal’s courtroom.
The decision was substantiated by the assessment of the judge that "the presence of the media at a proceeding causes chaos and excessive media interest does not help with the peaceful examination of a case."
HFHR warns that deprivation of the media’s ability to record proceedings conducted before the Constitutional Tribunal prevents live coverage of constitutional hearings, which constitutes a serious interference with journalists’ right to deliver information and public opinion’s right to receive it.