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New "vetting" law may have serious impact on media, says IPI

(IPI/IFEX) - The following is an IPI press release:

IPI Concerned by New Polish "Vetting" Law

On 15 March, a new law entered into force that the International Press Institute (IPI) believes may have severe implications for the Polish media.

Known as the "Lustration Act," the new legislation obliges individuals born before 1 August 1972 to submit so-called "Lustration statements" to the authorities regarding their relationship with the Polish security services during the period of communist rule.

Those bound by the Lustration Act include public officials as well as those performing a public function, such as local government officers, employees, lawyers, academics, and, for the first time, journalists in both public and private media. The Lustration Act is also binding on foreign nationals who perform a public function.

It is believed that between 300,000 to 700,000 individuals may be requested to submit a Lustration statement.

All Lustration statements are to be sent to the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN), which houses records of this period, for verification. Where there is doubt, the IPN may send a Lustration statement to the criminal courts for a determination of its veracity.

The Lustration Act carries harsh penalties for failing to comply with its provisions. Anyone who fails to submit a Lustration statement or who misses the deadline automatically ceases to perform his or her public function. In terms of the media, this means that journalists, editors, publishers and broadcasters in breach of the law may be unable to practice their profession, in some cases, for a period of up to ten years.

While IPI does not express a view on the idea of lustration itself, there is a concern that the process as stipulated by the Lustration Act may have a negative impact on the Polish media.

Commenting on the Lustration Act, IPI Director, Johann P. Fritz said, "While I recognise the importance of Poland's desire to reconcile with its past, the new law is extremely divisive and risks opening up fresh divisions within Polish society."

"In effect, the law seeks to arrive at the truth without creating the necessary conditions for reconciliation, in stark contrast to other countries forced to confront equally difficult pasts. I also doubt that the Lustration Act meets the standard set by the European Court of Human Rights that it is 'necessary in a democratic society.'"

"By including journalists in this process, the government has created a powerful tool that allows it to determine who may practice as a journalist. The media's independence rests on the right of publishers and broadcasters to make their own decisions regarding employment issues. The Lustration Act usurps this right by making the government a de facto employer whose decisions may impact upon content, because the exclusion of journalists will deny the public access to certain views and opinions," added Fritz.

"I would urge the Polish government to reconsider the Lustration Act, which appears to be imprecise and unclear. I also note that the act has been appealed to the Constitutional Tribunal and I would invite the Polish government to suspend applying the law until it's compatibility with the Polish Constitution and international law has been fully determined."

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