The Constitutional Tribunal (TK) has issued an interim order preventing Poland’s new government from making major changes to public broadcasters. The incoming ruling coalition has promised major reforms of state media, which have been turned into a mouthpiece for the former ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party.
The TK’s order was requested by PiS MPs, and the tribunal itself – whose president, Julia Przyłębska, is a close associate of PiS chairman Jarosław Kaczyński – is widely seen as being under the influence of the former ruling party.
A prominent figure from state TV admits they produced „worse propaganda” than under communism to support the ruling party’s election campaign.
But he thinks this „Stalinist logic” backfired and contributed to the negative outcome of the election for PiS https://t.co/8CsLIeVgNz
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) October 18, 2023
The new ruling coalition – led by Donald Tusk and made up of three former opposition groups – has made clear that it wants to “depoliticise” public media. Some figures have even floated the idea of putting some state-owned outlets into liquidation.
However, on Thursday, the TK issued an interim order for the government to refrain from taking any actions aimed at the dissolution of TVP or Polskie Radio, the other main public broadcaster. It also precludes “any activities aimed at changes in their management boards”.
The order was issued after a group of PiS MPs earlier this week submitted a request for the TK to consider the constitutionality of part of the broadcasting law relating to the liquidation of public media companies. The tribunal is due to begin hearing that case on 16 January.
On the last day in office of the outgoing PiS government, changes have been made to the statutes of public media at the request of the culture minister.
The opposition says it is an attempt to prevent the next government from carrying out planned reforms https://t.co/u7wxmkIzqA
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) November 27, 2023
The order was issued by a five-person panel of judges that was chaired by Przyłębska and included two former PiS MPs appointed to the tribunal in 2019, Stanisław Piotrowicz and Krystyna Pawłowicz.
However, a number of legal experts have argued that the TK’s order has no legal validity because one of the judges who issued it, Jarosław Wyrembak, holds his position illegitimately after PiS in 2015 appointed three justices in places of three nominated under the previous government.
Katarzyna Bilewska, a legal scholar from the University of Warsaw, also noted that the TK can only issue such orders against parties to legal proceedings, and in this case the government is not currently a party.
Another expert, Professor Michał Romanowski, told the Gazeta Wyborcza daily that the TK does not even have legal competence to rule on the type of case in question. “This is the purest form of lawlessness,” he said.
Poland’s near-total ban on abortion violated the rights of a woman who had to travel abroad to obtain an abortion, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled.
It found that the ban was introduced by illegitimately appointed constitutional court judges https://t.co/nPHDZC89u2
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) December 14, 2023
Meanwhile, last night a crowd gathered outside a TVP building in the centre of Warsaw to protest in defence of the broadcaster.
The demonstrators chanted “Free media”, “Down with communism”, and “We survived Russia, we’ll survive Tusk”, reports Business Insider Polska.
Leading figures from TVP thanked the protesters for coming, with the deputy head of the broadcaster’s news agency, Samuel Pereira, accusing the new government of wanting to “suppress pluralism”.
— Samuel Pereira (@SamPereira_) December 14, 2023
During its time in power from 2015 until this week, PiS turned public media outlets, and TVP in particular, into a party mouthpiece, using them to promote the government’s agenda and attack the opposition.
Those changes were introduced despite state-owned media having a statutory obligation to be political neutral. However, PiS argued that, because many privately owned media favoured the opposition, the line adopted by public outlets helped balance out the media landscape.
During PiS’s time in power, Poland fell from its highest-ever position of 18th in the World Press Freedom Index in 2015 to its lowest-ever position of 66th in 2022. Reporters Without Borders, the NGO that compiles the index, pointed to how the government had “turned public media into instruments of propaganda”.
International @OSCE observers have reported that Poland’s elections were an „uneven playing field” because the ruling party “enjoyed a clear advantage through its undue influence over the use of state resources and the public media” https://t.co/pZBE7UXvAR
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) October 17, 2023
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Main image credit: Dawid Zuchowicz / Agencja Wyborcza.pl
Daniel Tilles is editor-in-chief of Notes from Poland. He has written on Polish affairs for a wide range of publications, including Foreign Policy, POLITICO Europe, EUobserver and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.