Poland’s new pro-EU government dismisses state media chiefs

Culture ministry announces sackings citing need to restore impartiality of state news outlets.

A sign reading "Free media. Free people. Free Poland"
A placard reading, 'Free media. Free people. Free Poland' is seen during a demonstration in defence of media freedom in Krakow, Poland in 2021 [File: Jakub Wlodek/Agencja Gazeta/via Reuters]

The management of Polish public television, radio and state news agency PAP have been dismissed and one public news channel that critics say was politicised under the previous government has gone off air.

The culture ministry under Poland’s new pro-European Union government announced the dismissals of the chairmen and boards in a statement on Wednesday, citing the need to restore the outlets’ impartiality.

Critics say that state-run media, in particular 24-hour news channel TVP Info, became an outlet for propaganda during Law and Justice’s (PiS) eight years in office.

On Wednesday TVP Info’s signal disappeared, and so did its website.

“The end of TVPiS. TVP Info was turned off,” Civic Platform – the biggest party in the new government – posted on X.

Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s coalition, which took power last week, has vowed to create news outlets that take a more balanced approach.

On Tuesday, Poland’s new parliament adopted a resolution calling on “all state authorities to immediately take action aimed at restoring constitutional order in terms of citizens’ access to reliable information and the functioning of public media”.

The vote prompted PiS lawmakers to stage a sit-in in the state television buildings, with the party officials posing for pictures with the television employees.

“This is clearly an attack on the free media, it is a violation of the law,” Piotr Glinski, a former culture minister in the PiS government, told the AFP news agency about the reshuffle.

On Wednesday, Maciej Swirski, the head of the National Broadcasting Council, said: “Disabling the television signal and the TVP Info websites is an act of lawlessness and recalls the worst times of martial law,” referring to events during the communist era in Poland.

Swirski was appointed to the broadcasting council by the last parliament after he was recommended by PiS.

“The illegal actions of the Minister of Culture in relation to TVP, Polish Radio and PAP show how the authorities that supposedly care about the rule of law violate it at every step” former PiS Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki wrote on X.

“We will not give up. We will not allow for a dictatorship to be built in Poland,” he added.

The PiS government was frequently criticised by the opposition and non-profits for trying to stifle independent media and limit freedom of expression.

Global media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in 2020 said “partisan discourse and hate speech are still the rule within [Poland’s] state-owned media, which have been transformed into government propaganda mouthpieces.”

When Tusk’s government took office, it began reversing policies of the previous administration that many in Poland found divisive.

Parties that make up the new government collectively won the majority of votes in the October 15 election. They have vowed to govern jointly under the leadership of Tusk, who served as prime minister from 2007 to 2014 and was head of the European Council from 2014 to 2019.

Source: News Agencies