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20 Dec, 2023 17:34

New Polish government fires state media bosses

Opposition party MPs have occupied the headquarters of Warsaw’s public TV station in protest at sweeping media reforms
New Polish government fires state media bosses

The Polish state TV channel TVP went dark on Wednesday morning as Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s new government attempted to intervene in media outlets that critics accused of acting as mouthpieces of the previous administration. 

Former European Council President Tusk’s pro-EU cabinet, which took office last week, said on Wednesday that it had sacked executives from the state-run television station TVP, as well as Polish Radio and the government-run PAP news agency, citing a need to restore the outlets’ impartiality.

Before October’s election, Tusk had said he would need just “24 hours” to “change the system of public media” should he gain office. On Tuesday, Warsaw’s parliament approved a resolution that called on “all state authorities to immediately take action aimed at restoring constitutional order in terms of citizens’ access to reliable information and the functioning of public media.”

New management boards for each entity have been appointed.

Opponents of the swift reforms have said the move provides a foundation for a “dictatorship” to be established in the EU country.

The media sources had been accused by critics, including Tusk, of acting as a propaganda tool of the Law and Justice party (PiS), attacking its political foes and spreading its Euroskeptic views.

The adoption of the resolution led to PiS officials, including its leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, staging a sit-in protest at the TVP headquarters in Warsaw on Tuesday.

“There is no democracy without media pluralism or strong anti-government media,” Kaczynski told reporters Tuesday evening. “In Poland, these are the public media.” He added that PiS lawmakers would continue to attend the sit-in in shifts.

“This is clearly an attack on the free media; it is a violation of the law,” former PiS Culture Minister Piotr Glinski said on Wednesday, adding his view that the actions of Tusk’s administration were “illegal.”

The head of Poland’s National Broadcasting Council, Maciej Swirski, a PiS appointee, described the move as “an act of lawlessness [that] recalls the worst times of martial law.”

Meanwhile, the former PiS prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, wrote on social media that the government’s “illegal actions” show Tusk’s government’s intentions to violate the rule of law “at every step.”

“We will not give up,” Morawiecki added. “We will not allow for a dictatorship to be built in Poland.”

Global media watchdog Reporters Without Borders wrote in a 2020 assessment of Poland’s state media landscape that “partisan discourse and hate speech are still the rule within [Poland’s] state-owned media, which have been transformed into government propaganda mouthpieces.”

State media is traditionally seen as a vital public tool in Poland. Around one-third of the population relies on it for news and has no access to private broadcasters.