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Poland: draft laws on the media sector should respect European human rights standards on freedom of expression, media pluralism and data protection

Letter
Strasbourg 16/03/2021
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Poland: draft laws on the media sector should respect European human rights standards on freedom of expression, media pluralism and data protection

In a letter to the Prime Minister of Poland, made public today, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović urges the government to ensure that two draft laws concerning an ‘advertising revenue tax on media outlets’ and ‘protection of freedom of speech of social media users’ respect European human rights standards, specifically those related to freedom of expression, media freedom and pluralism, and the right to respect for privacy.  

The Commissioner is concerned that the tax proposed in the first draft bill would, in practice, lead to the suffocation of independent media outlets, thereby limiting the public’s ability to choose the content of their interest and unduly restricting their freedom to receive information. She therefore urges the Polish authorities to ensure that any measure adopted is not discriminatory, whether in letter or in practice, and does not trample on media pluralism, in line with Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. “It must not have the effect of stifling a sector of society whose work is so essential to ensuring an open and diverse media environment”, added the Commissioner. 

Regarding the draft law on ‘protection of freedom of speech of social media users’, which envisages the establishment of a body to review appeals against internet companies’ decisions on access to content, the Commissioner expresses concern about the independence of the body, the overly broad definition of what constitutes illegal content coupled with persisting gaps in the national framework regarding hate speech, and the lengthy data retention obligation introduced by the bill. She urges the Polish authorities to ensure that any measures to regulate the scope of social media companies’ decision-making over online content are based on clear and predictable provisions, pursue a legitimate aim, and are necessary in a democratic society. She further points out that suspicionless mass retention of communications data is contrary to the rule of law, and that effective remedies should be available against all decisions related to user content and data.