The Polish Constitutional Tribunal will rule on Jan. 16 on whether it is possible to liquidate public media companies without legislation. PiS deputies have submitted a request to the court to rule that this would be unconstitutional since the existence of public media is guaranteed by the constitution.
On Thursday, the tribunal decided to issue an injunction blocking any action by the government in advance of the court’s Jan. 16 hearing.
According to the National Media Council, a body created during the term of office of the previous government to oversee the management of public media, any attempts by the government to bypass the council and dismiss the current boards of public media companies would be illegal.
During the election campaign, Prime Minister Donald Tusk repeatedly attacked public television, saying he would ensure that its management and practices changed “within 24 hours of him taking office.” He never said how this would be done, but there are reports that the government is planning to liquidate the current operations of Poland’s public TV and radio and appoint commissioners to run them in the aftermath.
A protest organized by journalists and TVP viewers took place on Thursday outside of TVP’s headquarters; several hundred protested against the threat of arbitrary take-over of public media and the dismissal of its journalists.
According to former head of TVP Bronisław Wildstein, the new government is attempting to intimidate and silence journalists. Speaking on public TV news channel TVP Info, he said that any changes in public media companies can only come as a result of legislative changes. He added that “we do not live in a dictatorship where decisions are taken arbitrarily by a minister regardless of the law. That is totally against all principles of the rule of law and is unconstitutional.”
Wildstein doubts that the government would be prepared to use force as the communists did when they introduced martial law, but he could not rule out that it would take actions that contravene the law. However, he believes that the game is to intimidate and silence journalists into acquiescence and stop them from asking awkward questions. He compared it to the way judges are being intimidated to rule in favor of those in power.