(Recasts with lawmakers occupying parliamentary podium)
By Lidia Kelly and Marcin Goettig
WARSAW Dec 16 A protest by opposition lawmakers
against a plan to curb media access to the Polish parliament
brought the chamber to a halt and forced the postponement of a
key budget vote on Friday.
The demonstration began when a lone opposition MP ascended
the parliamentary podium with a placard reading "free media" and
was excluded from further debate or votes by speaker Marek
Kuchcinski, who is from the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party.
Other opposition members then joined MP Michal Szczerba on
the podium, chanting "free media" and "no censorship", in the
first such protest in the chamber for a decade.
As their occupation continued on Friday afternoon, the head
of the PiS, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, told reporters those taking part
would face consequences.
"We will not be terrorised. With utmost certainty we will
pass the budget," Kaczynski said. Szczerba is from the the
centrist Civic Platform party, which lost power to PiS in
elections in October 2015.
Rules proposed by the head office of the Sejm, the lower
house, would ban all recording of parliamentary sessions except
by five selected television stations and limit the number of
journalists allowed in the building. They are due to take effect
"This restriction, first of all, does not hit journalists,
but the rights of citizens to be fully informed about what
people elected by them to the parliament do," said a statement
signed by Poland's largest independent news outlets on Friday.
Since coming to power, the PiS has tightened its control
over public news media and state prosecution and moved to weaken
the country's highest court.
"I don't believe there is anything wrong here, I don't
believe this restricts the rights of journalists," Beata
Mazurek, a spokeswoman for the party, was quoted by Polish media
as saying on Thursday.
"INSPIRED BY EU"
The Sejm's office said the proposals were partly "inspired"
by how journalists were regulated in the European Parliament and
other countries' assemblies.
According to a document published on the Sejm website, 300
permanent and 200 temporary media accreditations have been
issued this year, and when the Sejm is in session up to 300
daily passes are granted.
"The changes will not only increase the safety and
professionalism for both journalists and politicians, but will
also improve the image of Sejm and Senat (the upper house),"
the document says.
"The Polish parliament has been very open to journalists for
27 years (since the first democratic election)," the leader of
the opposition Polish Peasant Party, Wladyslaw Kosiniak-Kamysz,
told Polskie Radio 24 on Friday.
"It has served the development of democracy in Poland, it
has served to ask tough questions. Now, there will be one
message. This is not good for the public opinion."
(Additional reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko and Pawel
Florkiewicz; Editing by Andrew Roche)