Poland: New govt sacks state media top officials

The recently inaugurated Poland government has initiated a comprehensive overhaul of the upper echelons of public television, fulfilling a campaign promise to reform a broadcaster perceived as a mouthpiece for the previous right-wing populist administration. Led by Prime Minister Donald Tusk, the new government, sworn into office last Wednesday, is determined to rectify the erosion of the rule of law in the country during the nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party’s eight-year tenure.

The PiS-led government was accused of leveraging state media to promote its policies, launching personal attacks on opposition figures, and engaging in vitriolic campaigns against individuals such as Tusk. Tusk, during an October campaign rally, asserted that his government would swiftly transform PiS-controlled television into a public service broadcasting platform. True to his word, within a week of assuming power, the new parliament passed a resolution advocating for the restoration of “impartiality and reliability of the public media.”

Following the resolution, Culture Minister Bartłomiej Sienkiewicz announced the removal of chairs and boards from state television, news, and radio. This move prompted a protest by PiS lawmakers outside the TVP (state broadcaster) headquarters, where PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński emphasized the importance of media pluralism and strong anti-government media for democracy. The TVP 24-hour news service was suspended, displaying only the channel’s logo on screens.

However, concerns were raised about the legality of the actions taken by the Tusk government. Some critics, including former PiS Culture Minister Piotr Gliński, labeled it as an attack on free media and a violation of the law. The PiS’s sudden advocacy for freedom of speech led to amusement and numerous memes, but others cautioned against potential pitfalls. Legal expert Dominika Bychawska-Siniarska expressed apprehension about the recurring pattern of political takeovers every election cycle and warned that the Tusk government might inadvertently create its own politicized public television network.

As Tusk faces the challenge of implementing a radical reform program, the debate over public television underscores the difficult choices ahead. The PiS remains a vocal opposition force in parliament, with party ally Andrzej Duda serving as president until 2025, possessing veto powers. This presents the Tusk government with the dilemma of either scaling down its ambitions or finding creative legal avenues to enact reforms. Professor Stanley Bill of the University of Cambridge noted the use of a “legal loophole” for the changes and criticized PiS politicians for hypocrisy while acknowledging the potential for blurred legal boundaries in the government’s approach.

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