By Alan Charlish
WARSAW (Reuters) -Poland’s culture minister has decided to put its state television, radio and news agency into liquidation, he said on Wednesday, deepening a dispute over the future of publicly- owned media after a momentous change in government.
A pro-European Union coalition headed by Donald Tusk took power in Poland this month and started an overhaul of state media institutions which critics say had become propaganda outlets during the nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party’s eight years in power.
The changes have drawn strong opposition from PiS, which says the new government has circumvented normal parliamentary procedure in implementing them.
Wednesday’s move follows a decision by President Andrzej Duda, a PiS ally, to veto the new government’s spending proposals for public media financing.
“Due to the decision of the President of the Republic of Poland to suspend financing of public media, I decided to put into liquidation the companies Telewizja Polska SA, Polskie Radio SA and Polska Agencja Prasowa SA,” Bartlomiej Sienkiewicz said in a statement posted on social media platform X.
“In the current situation, such action will ensure the continued operation of these companies, carry out the necessary restructuring and prevent layoffs of employees in the above-mentioned companies.”
He said that the state of liquidation could be withdrawn at any time by the companies’ owner, which is the state.
PiS lawmaker Joanna Lichocka said in a post on X that “Tusk’s government is destroying the Polish media”.
“This is an act which damages the state,” she added.
‘TYPICAL AGGRESSOR ‘
Earlier in December the new government had taken state news channel TVP Info off air and dismissed executives from state media in what it said was a move designed to restore impartiality.
Media analysts and free speech activists say that under PiS, TVP did not act as the neutral news provider its charter says it should be but as a government mouthpiece.
However, PiS says that the new government’s changes damage pluralism in the media by removing a conservative voice and that the means by which the changes were implemented, without a bill going through parliament, were not legal. Tusk’s government rejects these claims.
On Saturday, Duda said that he was vetoing a bill which included 3 billion zlotys ($771 million) in financing for state media in light of the government’s moves regarding public broadcasters.
The head of Duda’s office on Wednesday accused Sienkiewicz of behaving like “a typical aggressor”.
“This is proof of the complete powerlessness of the authorities, who have not found any legal way to change the authorities in these companies,” Marcin Mastalerek wrote on X.
On Tuesday a body dominated by PiS designated a new television boss despite the current administration having appointed somebody else to the role.
($1 = 3.8906 zlotys)
(Reporting by Alan Charlish;Editing by Tomasz Janowski and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)