Poland’s ruling government dismissed a top court’s decision to block the new prime minister’s plans to overhaul public media — saying that judges in power were “illegitimately” appointed by the former administration’s leaders and were therefore biased.
Prime Minister Donald Tusk and his pro-EU coalition have argued that the country’s state-owned radio, television, and news agencies were propaganda outlets for the previous administration. The government has already started to liquidate some public media channels and fire their top management.
The recent debate over state media is just one of many battles between the new liberal-centrist government and the country’s former nationalist administration.
Critics claim that “de-politicizing” state media is undemocratic
“De-politicizing” Polish state media was one of Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s main election goals to reverse what he claimed to be years of undermining the judiciary and media under Poland’s previous government, analyst Aleks Szczerbiak noted in The Polish Politics Blog. Tusk’s Civil Platform party accused the prior leadership of turning taxpayer-funded media outlets into “propaganda channels” and violating their duty to provide news that was “pluralistic and impartial.”
But critics have called Tusk’s move to liquidate the public media undemocratic, accusing him of mimicking the previous party’s actions to justify its preferred reforms, according to Szczerbiak. These critics argued that “de-politicization” actually meant replacing state-owned media’s management “with one that is more sympathetic” to Tusk’s government, and substituting the previous administration’s “crude bias” with “a softer, more subtle one,” Szczerbiak wrote.
Protests against overhauling state media reveal Poland’s deep political divisions
After Tusk’s government fired the top officials at state media outlet TVP and knocked the channel off air, protest chants heard outside its Warsaw headquarters were “crude” and “fiercely” anti-Tusk — what the BBC described as “the same kind of slurs state TV has been pumping out for years.” The backlash to the ruling party’s reform has shown that the country may still be recovering from a “vicious election campaign” last year which deepened divisions within families in “every region of the country,” CNN reported last year.
However, a recent poll from the country’s leading newspaper, Rzeczpospolita, suggests that a majority of Poles hold a positive view of Tusk’s actions in his first month of governance, with less than 40% of respondents expressing negative views to the ruling party’s changes. Political scientist Bartłomiej Biskup told Rzeczpospolita that the goal of the Civil Platform party is to “maintain excitement,” especially before Poles vote in local and European elections later this year. “Strong emotions will allow for a high turnout and a good result,” he said, “It is therefore a well-thought-out strategy.”
Poland’s test for reviving ‘corrupted democracy’ has regional implications
“Poland is an emerging test case of whether a corrupted democracy can be revived,” wrote The Washington Post columnist Lee Hockstader, adding that “the discouraging early signs are that it might be harder than building one from scratch.” Even with Tusk as prime minister, President Duda retains the power to veto legislation — and he has already threatened to challenge the ruling party’s agenda. Tusk is also pushing for more democratic reforms to have access to billions of dollars of aid frozen by the European Union — a result of the former government’s abuse of power. The stakes are high for security in the region, with Poland being one of Ukraine’s closest allies amid war with Russia. “Nothing could please Putin more than to watch the creeping destabilization of Poland,” Hockstader wrote.