Polish Media Shut Out of Budget Vote, Depriving Citizens of Information

The ball is firmly in Parliament's court: will MPs give journalists the freedom to fully and effectively report on events in the Polish legislature?
According to the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (HFHR), the lack of any possibility to report on the situation in the Parliament deprives the public opinion of access to the reliable information about the most important issues concerning the functioning of the state.

"Information about activities of legislative powers are the part of broadly defined public debate, which should be protected under the European Convention on Human Rights and the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights," the HFHR says in its statement.

Spontaneous demonstrations

The dynamic events of mid-December, which were initiated by an announcement that radical restrictions will be introduced for parliamentary correspondents, showed how crucial the role of media is in transmission of information from Parliament.

On December 16, the Speaker of the Sejm, the lower house of Parliament, prevented an opposition MP from continuing a debate and coming to the stage with a card that read "#Free media in Sejm." In response, the opposition blocked access to podium chamber. As a result of this, the Marshal decided to move the session and vote on the budget law to another, separate room in the building.

The budget vote was not held in the Sejm (above), but a side room that did not allow voice or video recording.

Despite the protests of the opposition, the budget law was approved. Votes were counted collectively and by hand because the new room had no automatic devices to count votes.

"Journalists were unable to report on parliamentary deliberations because the session had been moved from the plenary chamber and citizens couldn’t get credible information on the proceedings of legislative process and couldn’t fully verify nor evaluate the work of MPs," the HFHR's statement says.

As a result, groups of protesters gathered in front of Parliament to oppose the restrictions for press in the Sejm. Demonstrations continued into the late-night hours, with crowds blocking every exit of the Parliament to prevent the ruling party MPs from leaving the building.

Will Parliament support a free press?

It wasn’t the first time the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights gave a statement on journalists’ work at the Sejm. In October, the HFHR sent a letter to the Speaker of the Sejm, which served as a reminder that the free access of journalists to the Parliament building, and their ability to record sound and video and give the information to the public are the fundamental rights of journalists in a democratic state ruled by law.

“Once again, we urge that journalists be given the opportunity to effectively report on the events at the Sejm. We also call on the Parliament not to introduce unreasonable and overly restrictive limitations on work of parliamentary correspondents, which in practice makes them unable to perform key responsibilities of the media as a 'public watchdog,'" states the HFHR.