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24 Dec, 2023 18:17

EU state's president blocks budget over state media 'takeover'

Andrzej Duda denounced the newly elected Polish government’s “blatant violation of the Constitution”
EU state's president blocks budget over state media 'takeover'

Polish President Andrzej Duda vetoed a 2024 budget bill on Saturday in protest at the newly elected government’s controversial overhaul of the country’s state media outlets.  

Prime Minister Donald Tusk's new cabinet revealed on Wednesday that it had fired the top executives at government-run TV and radio stations and news agency and appointed new management boards in their place, citing a need to restore “impartiality.”

In a post on X (formerly Twitter) Duda explained that he could not consent to the bill, which included 3 billion zlotys (€690 million) earmarked for public media, “given the blatant violation of the Constitution and the principles of a democratic state of law.” 

An attempt to finance public media through a budget related law (by the parliamentary majority) is in the current situation unacceptable,” he continued, vowing to send his own version of the budget through parliament “immediately after Christmas.” This version will include the spending commitments promised by the ruling coalition led by Tusk.

Duda urged the leaders of both houses of parliament to call sessions and adopt his draft before the year’s end.  

The new government would have fulfilled several of its electoral promises with the budget, which included a 30% pay raise for teachers and a 20% increase for public sector workers.   

The controversial overhaul came just a day after parliament approved a resolution calling for “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,” seemingly fulfilling Tusk’s campaign pledge that he would “change the system of public media” in the space of 24 hours if elected.  

The former European Council president and his allies had accused the government-run media properties of acting as propaganda mouthpieces for the Law and Justice (PiS) party previously in power by attacking its political enemies and fomenting anti-EU sentiment. 

Tusk’s predecessor, Mateusz Morawiecki, denounced his replacement’s “illegal actions,” charging that the new coalition government intended to violate the law “at every step” and vowing to resist accordingly. “We will not allow for a dictatorship to be built in Poland,” the PiS politician wrote in a social media post on Wednesday. The party, which lost power to Tusk’s coalition in October’s elections, has pointed out that the management of public media properties can only be fired by the National Media Council.  

Poland’s state media, which include the TV station TVP, Polish Radio, and the PAP news agency, are the sole source of news for the approximately one-third of Poles who lack access to private media, according to the BBC.