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PM urges US to 'analyse' Polish media, restitution bills amid criticism

12.08.2021 23:00
Poland's prime minister has encouraged American experts to take a closer look at two bills passed by Polish MPs and slammed by Washington amid a bid by politicians in Warsaw to modify media ownership and property restitution rules.
Mateusz Morawiecki
Mateusz MorawieckiPAP/Paweł Supernak

Mateusz Morawiecki was speaking after Polish lawmakers voted in favour of a contested bill that seeks to prevent non-European owners from holding controlling stakes in domestic media firms.

In a separate vote, Polish MPs on Wednesday approved legislation to introduce a statute of limitations on claims for the restitution of property, including that seized by Poland's Nazi German occupiers from Jews during the Holocaust and kept by the country's postwar communist rulers.

In response to these two votes in Warsaw, US State Secretary Antony Blinken said in a statement that Washington "is deeply concerned" about the passage of legislation "severely restricting" the restitution process for Holocaust survivors in Poland and "deeply troubled" by a new Polish bill that "threatens media freedom" in the country.

Let's 'analyse what we are talking about here'

Poland's Morawiecki said in a comment on Thursday that US experts should be encouraged to take a closer look at the issues at hand.

"In both these cases, I invite experts representing our American partners to analyse what we are talking about here," he told a news conference. 

According to Blinken, the two Polish pieces of legislation "run counter to the principles and values for which modern, democratic nations stand."

"We urge the government of Poland to demonstrate commitment to these shared principles not only in words, but also in deeds," Blinken said in his statement.

The property restitution bill, passed by Poland's parliament on Wednesday and sent to President Andrzej Duda for signing into law, provides that administrative decisions may be revoked only within 30 years of being issued, rather than at any time.   

Blinken said this "severely restricts" the chances of Jewish Holocaust survivors and their families, as well as other property owners, "to obtain restitution for property wrongfully confiscated during Poland's communist era."

Former owners 'who are now 130 years old'

Poland's Morawiecki responded that the bill stemmed from a ruling by his country's constitutional court and was designed to eradicate "a mockery of justice and law" whereby courts were presented with documents "ostensibly signed by people who owned property before the war and who are now 130 years old and living in South America."

He added: "To our horror, the courts were indeed accepting these people as being alive and capable of signing documents."

After criticism from Israel, Poland's foreign ministry said earlier this year that the bill sought to ensure "public trust in the state" and "the reliability of law."

In his statement, Blinken on Wednesday urged Polish President Andrzej Duda not to sign the bill into law or refer it to Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal.

Meanwhile, the media bill approved by the lower house of Poland's parliament on Wednesday and now awaiting debate in the Senate, the upper chamber, strengthens an existing ban on companies based outside the European Economic Area controlling Polish media outlets.

Blinken said his country was "deeply troubled" by this legislation as it "targets the most watched independent news station, which is also one of the largest U.S. investments in the country."

He was referring to TVN, Poland's biggest private television network, owned by US company Discovery.

Blinken's statement added the bill "threatens media freedom and could undermine Poland's strong investment climate."

A free and independent media "makes our democracies stronger, the Transatlantic Alliance more resilient, and is fundamental to the bilateral relationship," Blinken stated.

Media bill 'not directed against any specific TV station'

The Polish prime minister responded by saying that the draft legislation was "not directed against any specific TV station," and "merely sought to tighten the rules so that firms from outside the European Union don't have a free hand in buying broadcasters in Poland."

By proceeding with this legislation, "we are demonstrating our good intentions, but also the dignity of the Polish state," Morawiecki argued.

"We cannot allow somebody from the outside to acquire stakes and capital in Polish media outlets any way they want, without us knowing," he also said.


Source: PAP