Polish opposition MPs demand a repeal of new media ban, 2016-2017

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Timing
Time Period:  
Time period notes: 
16 December 2016- 12 January 2017
2000s
2016
2017
Location and Goals
Country: 
Poland
Location City/State/Province: 
Warsaw
Goals: 
Repeal of media restrictions,

a new vote for the 2017 budget legislation

 

In 2016, the Sejm approved 300 permanent and 200 temporary media accreditations with the potential for 300 daily passes to be given on days the Sejm, the lower house of parliament, is in session. At maximum, 800 journalists could be present at parliament. These journalists had the ability to roam the hallways of parliament, interview Members of Parliament (MP) and take recordings of the sessions. The ruling party stated in a briefing that the new restrictions were not limiting, but would add to the professionalism and safety of the journalists by reducing the number of media present. On the other side, reporters argued that the restrictions would undermine the public’s right to be fully informed on what occurs in parliament.

On 16 December 2016, the Polish parliament erupted as MPs from the opposition party, Civic Platform, took the podium to protest the new restrictions on the media during a debate of the 2017 budget. The opposition MPs surrounded the podium of Marek Kuchcinski, the Marshal of the Sejm. Some of the opposition leaders held signs that read “Free media in Sejm.” The occupation of the Sejm became a sit-in in the surrounding areas of the podium.

The ruling party PiS who commanded a majority in parliament held a meeting and then reconvened the parliament session in another room. Amidst the chaos, PiS politicians excluded protesting opposition MPs from the budget vote. Without the presence of the media or electronic counting, the Marshal of the Sejm conducted a vote by a show of hands, and the budget was passed.

Opposition leaders refused to acknowledge the new budget and called it unconstitutional,since opposition MPs and the media were not present for the show of hands vote . Ruling party MPs contested that the vote was legal since they were working and claimed the opposition was trying to illegally take power.

Opposition parties Civic Platform, Modern Party, and the Polish Peasant Party released a statement asserting that the Marshal of the Sejm violated the constitution and that they had tried to vote but had having trouble accessing the new chamber where the budget vote took place. They called on the public to hold anti-government protests and promised to continue their occupation of the main parliament hall. Outside parliament, the protesting MPs gained the support of the Committee for the Defence of Democracy and other citizen groups. Rallied by the sit-in by the opposition MPs, the protesters blocked all exits and entrances of the parliament building, barricading all MPs inside the building.

In the early hours of 17 December 2016, the police forcefully broke up the blockade of parliament, allowing several vehicles to finally leave the compound. Prime Minister of Poland Jarosław Kaczyński, the head of PiS and Beata Szydlo, traveled in the convoy of cars that left. Multiple protests took place in the streets of Warsaw and in other Polish cities after the police removed the blockade in front of the parliament building by using tear gas and forcibly pulling and grabbing protesters away from the exits.

After two days of protests, Polish President Andrzej Duda met with opposition leaders and media representatives on 18 December 2017 to mediate and diffuse the political upheaval. Opposition leaders demanded the proposed media restriction be dropped and called for a new vote on the budget. The President met Kaczyńskii and Kuchcinski the following day to discuss the opposition leaders demands.

Smaller protests continued throughout the weekend, including a pre-planned demonstration outside the constitutional courts. Demonstrators continued to show support outside the parliament building for the 20 opposition leaders, who continued to occupy the main assembly. A pro-government rally of about 1,000 people gathered outside the presidential palace in Warsaw to express their support.

The protesting MPs promised to continue occupying the main chambers until at least 11 January 2016,when parliament was due to reconvene after the winter recess. The sit-in continued to gain the support of civilians, who gathered outside the parliament building and also brought the opposition MPs food, including a traditional polish meal on Christmas Eve.

On 9 January 2017, with the impending first session of parliament approaching, PiS announced that it would drop the media restrictions and give full media access to parliament, but the media center would be moved to another building. The Civic Platform party refused to call off the blockade, demanding a recast of the budget vote. The next day, Kaczynski made a statement that PiS would consider amendments proposed by the opposition, but would not conduct a new vote.

The Civic Platform party refused to stop the blockade. On the first day of the new parliamentary session, 11 January 2017, hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside parliament in support of the sit-in. Inside the building, Kuchcinski convened the parliament for two minutes before he was forced to suspend it for the day, as opposition leaders refused to leave the speaker’s platform. While the session in the lower house was suspended, the senators from PiS voted and approved the 2017 budget in the upper house, despite the opposition’s call for a new vote.

On Thursday, 12 January 2017, the second day of the session, the opposition parties finally suspended the sit-in. The head of Civic Platform, Grzegorz Schetyna, said that by “succeeding at securing media’s access to the parliament building, as well as their unrestricted right to cover the parliamentary proceedings, we are suspending our protest.”

Opposition members continued to assert that the budget legislation was illegal, and they pleaded with the President not to sign it into law. Nevertheless, on 13 January 2017, the President signed

the disputed budget into law.

Research Notes
Sources: 
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Anon. 2017. "'No deal' as Polish opposition sticks to parliament protest." Agence France-Presse, January 11. Retrieved February 29, 2019. (https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/news/document-view?p=AWNB&t=&sort=YMD_date%3AD&fld-base-0=alltext&maxresults=20&val-base-0=%22No%20deal%27%20as%20Polish%20opposition%20sticks%20to%20parliament%20protest%2C%22&docref=news/161DB015F4FD71E8).

Anon. 2017. "Poland: Poland Faces Parliamentary Showdown Over Opposition Blockade," Thai News Service, January 12. Retrieved February 29, 2019. (https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/news/document-view?p=AWNB&t=&sort=YMD_date%3AD&fld-base-0=alltext&maxresults=20&val-base-0=%22Poland%3A%20Poland%20Faces%20Parliamentary%20Showdown%20Over%20Opposition%20Blockade%2C%22&docref=news/161DA0A4848136A8).

Anon. 2017. “Poland’s President Signs Disputed 2017 State Budget into Law.” Reuters, January 13. Retrieved February 29, 2019.

(https://web.archive.org/web/20190304003248/https://www.reuters.com/article/uk-poland-economy-budget/polands-president-signs-disputed-2017-state-budget-into-law-idUKKBN14X1U6).

Ash, Timothy Garton. 2016. “The Pillars of Poland’s Democracy Are Being Destroyed.” The Guardian, January 7. Retrieved February 29, 2019.

(https://web.archive.org/save/https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jan/07/polish-democracy-destroyed-constitution-media-poland).

Berendt, Joanna. 2017. “Opposition Party in Poland Ends Month long Occupation of Parliament.” The New York Times, January 12. Retrieved February 29, 2019.

(https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/12/world/europe/poland-parliament-protest-opposition.html).

Buckley, Neil; Huber, Evon. 2017. "Opposition's budget protest mars opening day of Polish parliament - Political crisis," Financial Times (London, England), January 12, pp. 07 Retrieved February 29, 2019. (https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/news/document-view?p=AWNB&t=&sort=YMD_date%3AD&fld-base-0=alltext&maxresults=20&val-base-0=%22Opposition%27s%20budget%20protest%20mars%20opening%20day%20of%20Polish%20parliament%20-%20Political%20crisis%2C&docref=news/161E1722F7D28AE8).

Kelly, Lidia. 2016. “Poland Moves to Limit Media Access to Parliament.” Reuters, December 16. Retrieved February 29,2019. (https://web.archive.org/web/20190304002920/https://www.reuters.com/article/poland-media-idUSL5N1EB1YI).

Reuters. 2016. “Poland Crisis: Donald Tusk Calls for Respect of People and Constitution.” The Guardian, December 17. Retrieved February 29, 2019.

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Szczerbiak, Aleks. 2017. “How Will Poland’s Parliamentary Crisis Develop?” The Polish Politics Blog, January 3. Retrieved February 29, 2019(https://web.archive.org/web/20190304002710/https://polishpoliticsblog.wordpress.com/2017/01/03/how-will-polands-parliamentary-crisis-develop/).

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Shakina Kirton 27/05/2019