TVP World suspended and director fired amid Polish government’s public media takeover

Operations at TVP World, the English-language news channel run by Poland’s state broadcaster, have been suspended and its director dismissed as part of the new government’s takeover of public media.

The channel has already been off the air since last Wednesday, along with Polish-language news channel TVP Info, following the culture minister’s move to dismiss the management of TVP, Polskie Radio and the Polish Press Agency (PAP).

Yesterday, TVP World announced on social media that its operations have been suspended until mid-January. Moments later, its director, Filip Styczyński, also revealed that he has been “relieved of my duties”.

All operations of TVP World have been suspended until mid January.

— TVP World (@TVPWorld_com) December 27, 2023

TVP World is a 24-hour news channel broadcasting in English that was launched in November 2021. It has been available on VOD platforms in Austria, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Greece and the UK, among others, with some of its content published on YouTube.

The channel aims to offer a Polish perspective on global events, as well as to give more attention to and a stronger voice to the Central and Eastern Europe region.

This year, the TVP World website had an average of 240,000 monthly users, the broadcaster announced last month when the channel celebrated its second anniversary. Its YouTube channel has 439,000 subscribers.

More broadly, TVP itself was turned into a propaganda mouthpiece for the national-conservative Law and Justice (PiS) government, which left office earlier this month after eight years in power and was replaced by a new, more liberal coalition of parties led by Donald Tusk.

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

The new government has pledged to “depoliticise” public media, using that argument to justify last week’s takeover. However, PiS has accused it of violating the law and media freedom, while many legal experts have also expressed doubts about the methods employed by the new government.

When in power, PiS had supported the development of TVP World as a way of presenting a stronger Polish voice to the world. The station received 74.5 million zloty (€17.20 million) from the state budget between 2021 and 2022, a Supreme Audit Office (NIK) investigation found earlier this year.

The new government’s action to take TVP World off the air and remove its director have been criticised by many PiS politicians, as well as some journalists and commentators.

“A very sad picture,” said PiS MP and former party spokesman Radosław Fogiel. “TVP World, made with gusto and without complexes, promoting Polish interests and the Polish point of view, has gone silent. A station that was a safe harbour for dissidents and an antidote to Russian disinformation.”

Poland’s government has put public broadcasters TVP and Polskie Radio as well as the Polish Press Agency (PAP) into liquidation.

It says it was forced into the unprecedented decision due to the president’s veto of funding for public media

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) December 27, 2023

“TVP World was an important informant for people in other countries about what was happening in Ukraine,” former PiS foreign minister Zbigniew Rau told TV Republika. “They have now been deprived of this in a way that is disrespectful to the standards of the rule of law.”

Sergej Sumlenny, a Berlin-based Eastern Europe expert who published regularly on TVP World, called on the new government to keep the station running.

“Europe needs [a] strong Poland, and Europe needs a strong Polish voice. Please reconsider,” tweeted Sumlenny last week, arguing that TVP World should “not be confused with TVP’s [more politicised] Polish-speaking channel”.

Shutting down a media with global influence which delivers important Central European perspective to viewers worldwide? While the Russians, the Chinese, and other hostile nations invest billions in undermining Europe? Really, @donaldtusk? Please, reconsider! #SolidarityTVPWorld

— Sergej Sumlenny, LL.M (@sumlenny) December 20, 2023

However, American journalist Anne Applebaum (who privately is the wife of Radosław Sikorski, the foreign minister in Poland’s new government) argued in response to Sumlenny’s that TVP and TVP World “were run by the same people, sometimes with the same messages”.

She said that the government’s takeover of public media was about “re-establishing public broadcasting” after “TVP was illegally turned into a pro-PiS propaganda tube”.

One of the main presenters on TVP World, Michał Rachoń, was also a star of TVP Info, with his Polish programme promoting PiS’s narrative and attacking its opponents.

TVP’s World’s director, Styczyński, was also previously involved in TVP’s Polish-language news coverage. He was once infamously caught on camera making offensive gestures at a protest against the PiS government.

Filip Styczynski? You mean this young fella?

— Maciej Bąk (@MaciejBk1) December 27, 2023

Regular surveys by both Polish state research agency CBOS and researchers at the University of Oxford found that public trust in TVP collapsed under PiS.

Last night, the new government announced that it was putting TVP, Polskie Radio and PAP into liquidation, following President Andrzej Duda’s decision to veto the government’s plans to provide funding next year for public media.

Main image credit: TVP World screenshot

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

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