Court rejects Polish government’s changes to state TV management

A court has rejected last month’s decision by Bartłomiej Sienkiewicz, the culture minister in Poland’s new government, to change the management of state broadcaster TVP.

Sienkiewicz’s actions, which were part of a broader move to take control of public media outlets that had become propaganda mouthpieces for the former ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, sparked controversy, with many legal experts casting doubt on their legality.

The new government’s takeover of public media prompted protests from the former ruling PiS party. But it also raised doubts among legal experts.

We asked three such experts – @K_Izdebski, @MichaRomanows14 and Dominika Bychawska-Siniarska – for their views

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) December 26, 2023

The new ruling coalition had argued that, due to a Constitutional Tribunal (TK) ruling finding fault with reforms to public media introduced when PiS was in power, the culture minister – as the representative of public media outlet’s sole shareholder, the state treasury – was empowered to make management changes.

After Sienkiewicz made those changes on 19 December, were then be submitted for entry into the National Court Register (KRS), Poland’s official company register. However, in a ruling issued yesterday and reported today, a registry court rejected Senkiewicz’s appointment of new management at TVP.

In a justification for the decision, court clerk Tomasz Kosub wrote that “the Constitutional Tribunal’s judgment does not constitute a basis for concluding that these competences [regarding managerial appointments] were taken over by the minister”.

The court noted that, under Poland’s broadcasting law, it is still the National Media Council (RMN) – a body created by PiS and where its appointees retain a majority – that is responsible for managerial appointments. It rejected the government’s use of commercial law to unilaterally make such appointments.

Sąd rejestrowy zajął się kwestią zmian w radzie nadzorczej i zarządzie TVP. Nie wszystkim się to dzisiaj spodoba. KRRiT kluczowa

— Bartek Godusławski (@BGoduslawski) January 10, 2024

The court’s decision was welcomed by Michał Adamczyk, who the PiS majority at the RMN named as the head of TVP last month in defiance of Sienkiewicz’s decision to install his own new CEO, Tomasz Sygut.

“The decision of the registry court clearly shows that the attempted takeover of TVP was and is an illegal act,” said Adamczyk in a statement published on a TVP social media account still controlled by staff who were at the broadcaster before the new government’s changes.

Adamczyk also argued that all decisions made by Sygut, including new contracts made with journalists, are invalid.

Meanwhile, President Duda declared today that the registry court’s decision “confirms the illegality of Minister Sinkiewicz’s actions”, which were “an absolutely blatant violation of the constitution and the law”.

Oświadczenie prezesa TVP

— 🇵🇱 (@tvp_info) January 10, 2024

The culture ministry issued its own statement noting that the registry court’s decision can still be appealed and stating that Sienkiewicz’s appointments therefore remain in force. The ministry has not yet confirmed whether it will exercise the right to appeal.

The ministry also noted that the court’s ruling does not apply to Sienkiewicz’s later decision to put TVP and other public media outlets into liquidation. That decision was made after President Andrzej Duda, a PiS ally, vetoed government funding for public media because of Sienkiewicz’s earlier actions.

Katarzyna Bilewska, an expert in commercial law at the University of Warsaw, believes that the liquidation decision in effect means that the registry court was being asked to make decisions based on outdated information.

“The company should withdraw the application in this respect and the registry court should discontinue the proceedings,” wrote the law professor on social media. “The task of the National Court Register is to disclose current information, not historical information.”

She noted that the registry court in Warsaw will now deal with the application for an entry to place TVP into liquidation.

💥Decyzja sądu rejestrowego w Warszawie o odmowie ujawnienia w rejestrze Tomasza Syguta jako prezesa zarządu #TVP odnosi się, ze względu na otwarcie likwidacji spółki i wygaśnięcie mandatu prezesa , do nieaktualnych danych.
❌Spółka powinna cofnąć wniosek w tym zakresie, a sąd…

— Katarzyna Bilewska (@KasiaBilewska) January 10, 2024

The new government argues that it had to make urgent and radical changes to public media because they were acting as PiS propaganda mouthpieces in violation of their statutory obligation to be neutral and balanced.

PiS, by contrast, argues that the takeover of the public media by the new government was not only unlawful but also threatens media freedom and pluralism, because most private media outlets have a liberal bias.

Under PiS’s eight years of rule, it was frequently found by international experts to have violated media freedom. During that time, Poland fell from its highest ever to its lowest ever position in the World Press Freedom Index while trust in TVP fell to record lows.

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

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) October 18, 2023

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Main image credit: TVP

Alicja Ptak is senior editor at Notes from Poland and a multimedia journalist. She previously worked for Reuters.

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