Victory for conservatives after court declares changes in Polish public media unlawful

The National Court Register rejected the appointment of new supervisory board members of TVP, the national broadcaster, appointed by Culture Minister Bartłomiej Sienkiewicz, citing legal inconsistencies

editor: Grzegorz Adamczyk
author: dorzeczy.pl
Police officers arrive at the headquarters of the public TVP broadcaster in Warsaw, Poland, Wednesday Dec. 20, 2023. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

In a ruling seen as a victory for conservatives, the National Court Register (KRS) rejected the appointment of new supervisory board members of TVP, the national broadcaster, appointed by Culture Minister Bartłomiej Sienkiewicz.

The KRS in Warsaw ruled against the changes made in the public broadcasting system under pro-EU Prime Minister Donald Tusk, including at Polish Television (TVP) where the management was sacked and new staff seen to be more sympathetic to the liberals’ cause were installed.

The court declined the registration of new supervisory board members appointed by Culture Minister Bartłomiej Sienkiewicz.

This decision was eagerly anticipated by both parties embroiled in the dispute over state media control.

The KRS found that the appointments of the new TVP board members and Tomasz Sygut as the company’s president did not comply with the existing broadcasting laws and the TVP’s statutes.

The request for registration of the new board members, who were appointed by the culture minister at a general meeting on Dec. 19 of the previous year, along with Tomasz Sygut as president, was rejected by the court on Tuesday. The court clerk, responsible for the registration procedure, justified the decision, stating that the appointments were made by an unauthorized body, violating the Radio and Television Broadcasting Act and the TVP’s own statutes under the Commercial Companies Code (KSH).

This ruling also referenced a December 2016 Constitutional Tribunal decision, which found that stripping the National Broadcasting Council of its authority to appoint members of public media companies’ boards was unconstitutional.

The court explained that this verdict did not imply questioning the legitimacy of the National Media Council as the appointing authority. Even more so, the Constitutional Tribunal’s ruling does not suggest that these competencies were transferred to the minister responsible for state treasury’s corporate rights.

The decision follows a series of controversial moves in the public media sector, promoted by Culture Minister Bartłomiej Sienkiewicz’s decision to dismiss the presidents of TVP, Polish Radio, and the Polish Press Agency (PAP). New boards were then selected by the newly appointed supervisory boards. This sparked a significant political conflict between Law and Justice (PiS) and the new ruling coalition, and also raised legal questions.

The ministry argued that the minister, as the entity exercising the state treasury’s ownership rights with 100 percent shares in the companies, acted within the Commercial Companies Code’s provisions.

Conservative politicians from the PiS party have consistently argued that the dismissal of public media authorities was illegal and thus without legal justification.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage announced that the decision of the registration court, which earlier rejected the application for entry into the National Court Register of changes in the management of TVP, “is not final.” The ministry assessed that “all activities of the new council are fully in accordance with the law.”

In a related development, at the end of December, Bartłomiej Sienkiewicz announced the liquidation of TVP, Polish Radio, the Polish Press Agency, and 17 companies managing regional public broadcasters. This decision was attributed to President Andrzej Duda’s veto of a bill that would have allowed up to 3 billion zlotys (€690 million) in funding for state media companies.

The minister emphasized that liquidation would secure the ongoing operations of these companies, enable necessary restructuring, and prevent layoffs due to lack of funding. He added that this state of liquidation could be reversed at any time by the owner.

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