Poland’s public television news stations went off the air yesterday as police conducted massive raids to seize public news station TVP, with fears becoming realized that Prime Minister Donald Tusk would move quickly to crack down on press freedoms once he assumed power.
A group of senior Law and Justice (PiS) politicians, including party leader Jarosław Kaczyński and former Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, arrived at the headquarters of state-run TV broadcaster TVP on Wednesday afternoon as the new pro-EU government moved to seize control of state-run press in dramatic authoritarian fashion.
Both Morawiecki and Kaczyński said the government’s decision to replace public media chiefs resembled a “coup d’état” and an illegal “takeover by force.”
Kaczyński told reporters that the Law and Justice (PiS) party stood in defense of democracy and a “pluralistic media.”
PiS politicians compared the action to the introduction of martial law in Poland in 1981 in the sense that the government then also shut down TV programs and dismissed scores of journalists.
There was outrage too at an incident in which a female MP from PiS was assaulted by one of the bodyguards who assisted the new chairman of the TVP Board in taking over an office at TVP.
Former Education Minister Przemysław Czarnek said that “this is the most brutal taking of power ever in the EU, with the government using force, assaulting MPs and shutting down media they do not like.”
Meanwhile, Culture Minister Bartłomiej Sienkiewicz told the left-liberal Gazeta Wyborcza paper that the protest “will achieve nothing.”
Earlier in the day, the government informed that the culture minister had relieved the CEOs of TVP, Polish Radio and the Polish Press Agency (PAP) of their duties, and also dismissed the boards of directors of these outlets. Sienkiewicz has appointed new boards of directors for TVP, Polish Radio and PAP, which in turn have appointed new executive boards, the Ministry of Culture added in its statement.
It also said that the “necessity and justification” for the move flowed from Tuesday’s resolution by the Polish parliament, which called on the government to “restore the impartiality and credibility of public media.”
Protests continued outside TVP’s headquarters in Warsaw throughout Wednesday.
The journalists stopped from having their programs broadcast have been hosted by the independent channel TV Republika, and they are planning to start broadcasting from there starting Thursday.