In practice, the National Council was dismissed in such manner only once in history – in 2010. The National Council’s influence on the activity of the public media was manifested in, inter alia, the fact that the National Council appointed – by way of a competition – the members of supervisory boards of the public media companies (Polish Television and public radio companies). From the moment the Constitution of 1997 came into force, the National Council has had constitutional authorisation.
The Constitution states only that the National Council shall guard the freedom of speech, the right to information and the public interest in radio and television, defining that its members shall be appointed by the Sejm, the Senate and the President, with details in this regard being left to an ordinary statutory regulation.
The current structure of public media in Poland was formed in the following manner: there is the Polish Television joint stock company, the Polish Radio joint stock company and 17 regional radio companies. All of the aforementioned companies are one-person companies owned by the State Treasury, which in practice excludes privatisation thereof.
Until now, the Supervisory Boards of the public media companies were composed of seven members each. Five members would be appointed by the National Council (after running an appropriate competition), and the Minister of the State Treasury and the Minister of Culture would appoint one member each. The management boards of the public media companies were appointed and dismissed by the National Council, upon the motion of the supervisory board. The positions of the management board members were filled only after a competition procedure had first been run.
The Act provided for a closed and quite limited criteria catalogue under which the management or supervisory board members could be dismissed. It covers only: being convicted of a deliberate criminal offence, acting to the detriment of the company or occurrence of circumstances that permanently prevent a member from serving his/her function.
After the presidential and parliamentary elections which took place in Poland in 2015, the majority in both the Sejm and the Senate was won by the Law and Justice Party. The newly-elected president is a member of this party as well.
Meanwhile, the National Council and public media authorities were elected during the previous government’s term of office. The new government has decided that the public media are unfavorable towards it and that therefore their management has to be changed – so that the public service media present the stance of the current government.
These plans, re-emerging in practice since the elections, were publicly disclosed by persons linked to the new government. The programme of the party which is currently in power assumes that the existing public television and radio companies are to be transformed into institutions of higher public utility, with their governing bodies (to include one-person management boards) to be appointed by the regulatory authority for a five-year term of office1. After the change in the government, work on the relevant amendments to the law have commenced in the Ministry of Culture.
The proposed amendments to the Broadcasting Act have been referred to as the "minor broadcasting act". As well as the change in the public service media structure, the Act was also to regulate the public media financing system as the existing one turned out to be inefficient, and the collection rate of the licence fee is at present rather low.
As an interim and temporary solution, which aims only to allow the governing party to take over the public media governing bodies, the act referred to as the "minor media act" was passed. The draft law was submitted to the Sejm on 28 December 20152.
The substantiation of the draft pointed out the necessity to change "the manner of creating supervisory boards and management boards of the existing public radio and television companies and to limit the composition of the supervisory boards to three persons. This shall be connected with eliminating the participation of the National Broadcasting Council, as the electronic media market regulatory authority, in the creation of the management and supervisory boards of the companies owned by the State Treasury, which companies operate on the market in question."
The pace of work on the act was rapid indeed, as the first reading in the parliament took place already on the following day – 29 December 2015, and then the draft was referred to the Sejm committee, which accepted the report3 on 30 December 2015. The second and the third reading of the Act, leading to it being passed by the Sejm, occurred also on 30 December 2015. The Act was immediately referred to the Senate, with the Senate declaring already on the next day, i.e. on 31 December 2015, that it is not to propose any amendments. This way, the Act was passed on to the President for signing. The President signed the act on 7 January 2016.
On the very same day, the act was published in the Journal of Laws4. It came into effect on the date following its promulgation, i.e. on 8 January 2016. What is particularly interesting is the fact that the act comes as an temporary regulation, with a definite term, since article 4 thereof stipulates that the act shall expire on 30 June 2016.
The adoption of the Act was accompanied by protests by journalists – with some of them working in the public service media companies. As protest, the public service television programme managers handed in their resignations. To express protest, the director of the Polish Radio 1 broadcast every hour the national anthem alternately with Beethoven’s "Ode to Joy" (Editor’s note: "Ode to Joy" is the official anthem of the European Union, with lyrics composed by German poet Friedrich Schiller and set to music by Beethoven, also a German.) Once the Act came into force, he was sacked for violating journalistic ethics.
On the other hand, some of the journalists linked to the new government expressed their support for the amendments.