Polish state TV channel halts broadcasts in clash with Tusk

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Poland’s public television news channel stopped broadcasting on Wednesday, pushing the country’s new pro-EU administration to assert control over state media, which it said had become a mouthpiece of the right-wing former government.

TVP Info’s 24-hour news broadcast was abruptly halted in the face of protests from the right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party, and Poland’s culture ministry said the heads of the state television, radio and news agency had been sacked. Government of Prime Minister Donald Tusk.

Tusk, who took office last week, promised on the campaign trail to eliminate state television, saying state media acted as a mouthpiece for the former government led by the BIS. On Tuesday, he presented a draft budget for 2024 without any state funding for TVP.

Lawmakers led by PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński held an all-night vigil inside TVP’s headquarters after walking out of a debate on the broadcaster’s future in parliament on Tuesday. On Wednesday, the TVP Info news channel stopped broadcasting, but two other major state media channels continued to run.

Tusk’s Civic Platform party on Wednesday welcomed the news channel’s closure on social media platform X, calling it “the end of TVPiS”. TVP Info changed the color of its title banner from red to black overnight.

Former PiS premier Mateusz Morawiecki accused Tusk’s culture ministry of taking “illegal measures” on Wednesday, which “shows how officials who care about the rule of law violate it at every step”. Morawiecki told X “We will not give up. We will not allow dictatorship in Poland.

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Tusk was appointed prime minister last week after leading a pro-European coalition to a parliamentary majority in a key election in October, marking a sharp break from the PiS government era.

After taking office, he attended an EU summit in Brussels and pledged to restore Poland’s role and unlock billions of euros in EU funding frozen in Brussels due to concerns about the rule of law in Poland.

But the hostility to TVP illustrates the uphill struggle Tusk faces as he seeks to dismantle the PiS apparatus built up during the eight years Kaczyński’s party was in power.

During his election campaign, Tusk said the broadcaster helped spread lies about him and his party and acted as a tool of the PiS campaign. Since coming to power, he has denied TVP journalists access to events and conferences organized by his government.

“Public media in its current form does not deserve to be financed from taxpayers’ pockets,” Tusk said on Tuesday.

However, Tusk has spoken of “healing” Poland’s public media, and it is unclear how far his overhaul will last.

A group of PiS lawmakers last week appealed to Poland’s Constitutional Court, which is dominated by PiS-appointed judges, to stop the Tusk government from dismantling television and radio. TVP is less popular in Warsaw and other major cities, but is an important source of information for many people living in rural Poland, the core voters of PiS.

Tusk also replaced the heads of the state security, intelligence and anti-corruption offices this week, and recalled Poland’s representative to the World Bank, Jacek Kurski, the former boss of TVP.

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But Tusk will fight to remove some PiS appointees before the end of their official terms, notably Poland’s National Bank Governor Adam Klapinski, who has appealed to the European Central Bank to bring Tusk before a state tribunal that could suspend him. While examining his case.

Tusk is to serve until 2025 with President Andrzej Duda, who is backed by PiS. Following the October elections, Duda supported moves by PiS to delay Tusk’s appointment until last week. He also wields significant veto powers as president.

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