Poland targets big tech with anti-censorship law


FILE PHOTO: An explosion caused by a police munition is seen while supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump gather in front of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, U.S., January 6, 2021. REUTERS/Leah Millis//File Photo

WARSAW (Reuters) - Social media companies that remove posts they deem offensive could face fines, Poland's justice minister said on Friday, as a government that allied itself with U.S. President Donald Trump enacts a move it says will guarantee free speech.

The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, which has a conservative Catholic social agenda, argues that big tech companies exercise a dangerous level of control over public debate, censoring opinions out of line with their own liberal world view.

"We place emphasis on the sphere of freedom," Zbigniew Ziobro told a news conference, adding that the law would not exclude the possibility of removing posts or blocking accounts but would stop companies "blocking individual statements or... deleting user accounts, if they do not agree with them."

Users will be able to appeal to a Free Speech Council and if social media companies block accounts or remove posts that do not break Polish law, they will be liable for fines of up to 50 million zlotys ($13.35 million).

The move follows an announcement by state-controlled refiner PKN Orlen that it is buying regional newspaper publisher Polska Press, an acquisition critics say aims to increase government control over media.

Twitter permanently suspended Trump's account this month, citing the risk of further incitement of violence.

Trump's supporters rampaged in the Capitol following a speech in which the Republican urged them to fight President-elect Joe Biden's election victory. Trump falsely claims he lost due to widespread voting fraud.

Poland's law on social media had been planned before events in Washington, but the country has set great store by its relationship with Trump and Polish right-wing media criticised Twitter's decision.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki wrote on his Facebook page that censorship on social media should not be tolerated, and that social media should serve society, not their "powerful owners".

Earlier this month, Deputy Justice Minister Sebastian Kaleta railed against "the preventive censorship of the U.S. President" in a tweet.

($1 = 3.7449 zlotys)

(Reporting by Alan Charlish and Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk; editing by Barbara Lewis)

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