Thursday 19 April 2018

Poland 'going back to the worst days of communism'

Poland's Prime Minister Beata Szydlo (Getty Images)
Poland's Prime Minister Beata Szydlo (Getty Images)

Matthew Day

The Polish government is turning the clock back to the "worst days of communism", a leading Polish journalist has claimed, after more than a hundred editors and writers were fired or quit in protest at the new government's handling of the country's public media.

The claims are part of the latest outcry against Poland's new conservative government, which has riled the European establishment and this month caused an EU human rights watchdog to warn that "democracy, human rights and the rule of law" are under threat in Poland.

Liberal forces in Poland have accused the Law and Justice Party government of mounting a targeted assault on the country's judiciary and media, with the state broadcaster TVP - the equivalent of the BBC - a key target.

Seweryn Blumsztajn, a legend in Polish journalism who cut his journalistic teeth in the country's underground free press in the 1970s, said the TVP news was packed with propaganda that recalled the days before the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989.

"TVP is full of the language of propaganda just like the worst days of the communist state," said Mr Blumsztajn. "It's the worst since the 1980s. I haven't seen anything like this since the communist days."

Poland's governing party has rebuffed the criticism, accusing the outgoing liberal establishment of political sour grapes.

Jacek Kurski, the new head of TVP, said this month that he remained determined to ensure the organisation's objectivity, adding: "You can't make political television that is chosen by politicians."

TVP has recently made a point of hiring - or trying to hire - known critics of the government. In late March, it signed up Marcin Celinski, the editor of a left-wing magazine, to present his own programme on TVP's news channel.

However, scores of other journalists have apparently voted with their feet, either being sacked or leaving TVP in protest at what they see as heavy-handed government interference.

Fears over the decline in independence in Poland's media have mingled with wider concerns over the state of democracy in the Central European country, once the poster-child for the EU eastward expansion.

Mr Blumsztajn is now president of a journalists' association monitoring the situation at TVP and the state-controlled Polish Radio. The TVP website now lists 112 journalists or editorial staff who have either been sacked or have quit, and that number is expected to rise as what many journalists call an unprecedented purge of newsrooms continues.

Law and Justice argues that public media needs a root-and-branch overhaul to rid it of an entrenched culture of bias and to ensure it maintains objectivity and has ushered in a media law that allows the treasury ministry to appoint senior management.

Another bill under preparation will allow for the sacking of all journalists and editorial staff, and give management the right to re-hire those it deems appropriate. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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