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Poland’s new pro-European Union government has begun to wrestle control of the country’s state media and some other state agencies from the conservative party that consolidated its grip on them during eight years in power.
The Cabinet of Prime Minister Donald Tusk, which took office last week, said Wednesday it had fired and replaced the directors of the state television and radio outlets and the government-run news agency. It seeks to reestablish independent media in Poland in a legally binding and lasting way.
Tusk’s government has made it a priority to restore objectivity and free expression in state media, which the previous government, under the Law and Justice party, used as aggressive propaganda tools, attacking Tusk and the opposition and spreading its euroskeptic views. During its rule, Law and Justice cut corners and ignored some procedures to gain control of the media supervisory bodies and of the key appointments as it tightened its grip.
The new government’s first steps toward a return to media freedom were met with protest by Law and Justice. Party leader Jarosław Kaczyński, top party figures and many of its lawmakers occupied buildings housing the offices and studios of state-run television TVP in the hopes that their supporters would come out to demonstrate in big numbers. A rally was called for later Wednesday and a few hundred people gathered, flying Poland’s national white-and-red flags, but then dispersed.
“The (party) instructions are that all Law and Justice parliament members come here (to the TVP building),” said Law and Justice Sen. Marek Pek. “We must show through our presence that we are deeply against these lawless and brutal actions.”
Law and Justice issued a statement saying the actions of the new government were “illegal” and that the changes in leadership of the media outlets were done “unlawfully.”
The statement quoted Kaczyński, Poland’s most powerful politician until recently, insisting that the protest is a “defense of democracy because there is no democracy without media pluralism or a strong anti-government media. In any democracy, there must be strong anti-government media.”
The irony was that for years the Law and Justice government actively sought to discredit and eliminate from the market the TVN station that was highly critical of the administration. TVN is owned by the U.S. Warner Bros. Discovery Inc.
There was no brutality involved Wednesday and the change of management was done in line with the law, as the new government exercised its 100% ownership rights. Some police were deployed in front of the building, but their goal was to ensure calm, according to Warsaw police spokesman Sylwester Marczak.
On Tuesday, Polish lawmakers adopted a resolution presented by Tusk’s government calling for the restoration of „legal order, objectivity and fairness” of TVP, Polish Radio and the PAP news agency.
Following the resolution, Poland’s new culture minister, Bartłomiej Sienkiewicz, replaced the heads and the supervisory boards of state media, which chose new management.
The new head of TVP’s supervisory board, lawyer Piotr Zemła, came to the broadcaster’s headquarters on Wednesday, along with the new management and journalists. The same took place at the radio and news agency headquarters.
In the first sign of change, the all-news TVP INFO channel, one of the previous government’s main propaganda tools, ceased to broadcast on air and over the internet on Wednesday morning.
The quick change apparently did not leave the new team enough time to prepare for the main evening news cast, which wasn’t aired, probably for the first time ever. Instead, the new anchor man said that there will be no more propaganda, while objective news will be aired starting Thursday.
Earlier this week, the previous ruling party called a rally at the state television building to protest any planned changes, but only a few hundred people turned up.
President Andrzej Duda, who was an ally of the previous government, has warned that he won’t accept moves that he believes to be against the law. However, his critics have long accused him of violating the Polish Constitution and other laws as he tried to support the policies of the Law and Justice party. Some of the party’s policies, especially in the judicial sector, drew strong criticism and financial sanctions from the EU, which saw them as undemocratic.
Tusk assured Duda that the moves in the state media are aimed at restoring “legal order and simple decency in public life,” all in line with Duda’s intentions.
“You can count on our determination and unwavering consistency,” Tusk wrote on X, previously Twitter.
Also on Wednesday, the lawmakers took a first step toward mending the justice system and through a resolution appealed to members of a judiciary supervisory body appointed by the previous government against the law to step down.
In another setback for Law and Justice, a Warsaw court Wednesday handed two-year prison terms to former interior minister Mariusz Kamiński and his deputy, who were found guilty of abuse of power in 2007, when they served in the previous Law and Justice government.
The government took office Dec. 13 and began reversing policies of the previous administration that many in Poland found divisive. In one such move, Tusk had new heads of the security, intelligence and anti-corruption offices appointed on Tuesday.