Polish Lawmakers Block Parliament to Protest Media Rules

MONIKA SCISLOWSKA, AP

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Opposition lawmakers in Poland, upset that the conservative ruling party plans to limit reporters’ access to lawmakers, protested Friday in the lower house of parliament, singing the national anthem and chanting “Free media!” and “Democracy!”

They protested in a large group around the speaker’s podium for several hours, effectively blocking work on the state budget. A separate civic protest began in front of the parliament building on Friday night.

In the 27 years of Poland’s democracy, journalists have been a constant presence in the parliament’s halls. Although banned from the main assembly room, they can mingle freely and grab politicians for interviews in the halls.

The ruling Law and Justice party, which is under European Union scrutiny for policies deemed anti-democratic by opponents, plans new rules starting Jan. 1 that would drastically limit reporters’ access in parliament.

Private TVN24 broadcast the commotion in parliament with a message on the screen: “We will not be able to show this” after Jan. 1.

Ruling party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski denounced the obstruction of parliament as “hooliganism.”

“We will not allow ourselves to be terrorized,” he said.

He vowed to go forward with the limitations, saying the proposed changes to media access are no different from those in many other European nations.

Adam Bodnar, the country’s human rights commissioner, also criticized the plan, saying the constitution guarantees the public access to information and journalists provide that to citizens.

Journalist Seweryn Blumsztajn, a dissident under communism, called the plan a “return to communist-era practices.”

Monika Olejnik of TVN acknowledged that journalists have gone too far sometimes, such as trying to accost politicians heading to the toilet. But she, too, denounced the planned new rules, saying ruling party lawmakers want “to protect themselves from uncomfortable questions by journalists.”

“But this is in violation of the Constitution and of parliament rules,” Olejnik said.
Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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