Polish public media crisis deepens as former ruling party appoints alternative head of state TV

The crisis surrounding Poland’s public media deepened on Tuesday after a state body created by the former Law and Justice (PiS) government named a new head of state broadcaster TVP despite the new government having already picked its own figure last week.

The National Media Council (RMN) – a body created by PiS in 2016 but whose legality has been rejected by the new government on the basis of a constitutional court ruling – last night chose Michał Adamczyk as TVP’s new chief.

As a presenter of the main evening news – which under PiS was used to promote the government and attack the opposition – Adamczyk became one of the main faces of the former ruling party’s transformation of TVP into a propaganda mouthpiece.

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

Adamczyk’s choice as the new head of the broadcaster was approved by the three PiS figures on the five-seat RMN. But one of the two members who come from the new ruling majority, Robert Kwiatkowski, not only opposed Adamczyk’s candidacy but says that the RMN’s decision was not legal.

“Mr. Adamczyk, obviously, is not the president of TVP. The president is appointed by the owner, period,” Kwiatkowski told news website Onet.

His remarks refer to the new government’s justification for its takeover of public media last week, which was based on the legal argument that the culture minister, Bartłomiej Sienkiewicz, as the representative of the only shareholder, the state treasury, was empowered to choose their management.

On that basis, Sienkiewicz last week removed the PiS-appointed head of TVP, Mateusz Matyszkowicz, and appointed Tomasz Sygut in his place.

The new ruling coalition has also pointed to the 2016 Constitutional Tribunal ruling that found parts of PiS’s establishment of the RMN that year to have been unconstitutional.

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 https://t.co/u9QAMFX2Zk

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

PiS has rejected those arguments and argues that the new government’s takeover was both illegal and a violation of media freedom. It has been holding protests in and around public media offices. Those have also been joined by some TVP staff, including Adamczyk.

Speaking after his appointment as the new head of TVP, Adamczyk condemned the new government’s “illegal actions” that have caused “huge damage”. He likened their decisions, including taking some of TVP’s channels off the air, to “the actions of the communists 42 years ago during martial law”.

“I promise that I will do everything to restore legal and corporate order in the company as soon as possible, punish those responsible for breaking the law, and resume the operation of all broadcasters,” he added.

📺Oświadczenie Michała Adamczyka, prezesa Telewizji Polskiej⤵️#WolneMedia #PolskieMedia pic.twitter.com/KRKL0XnRdD

— tvp.info 🇵🇱 (@tvp_info) December 27, 2023

Meanwhile, recent days have also seen dramatic scenes at the headquarters of the Polish Press Agency (PAP), another state-owed outlet whose management was replaced by the new government last week.

PiS MPs protesting there were seen engaged in confrontations with security guards hired by the new management. The ousted head of PAP, Wojciech Surmacz, accused the new government of “terrorising free media and journalists”.

In response, the new head of PAP, Marek Błoński, said that in fact it is “the unprecedented political action of PiS parliamentarians at the headquarters of the Polish Press Agency [that is] an attempt to terrorise and force obedience among journalists”.

“I will not allow PAP to become the media base of any party, which is what the participants of this illegal action are trying to force,” added Błoński, who has been prevented by the protesting MPs from accessing his office, reports broadcaster TVN.

Panie Ministrze @MKierwinski, jakim prawem Macierewicz uniemożliwia pracę pracownikom TVP oraz PAP? Co robi @PolskaPolicja w tej sytuacji? pic.twitter.com/VpHdJBPD2o

— Obywatel WK 🙂 (@wkrawcz1) December 24, 2023

Main image credit: Adam Stepien / 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 PolicyPOLITICO EuropeEUobserver and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.

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