epa11045650 Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk gestures as he speaks during a press conference after a meeting of his cabinet at the prime minister's office in Warsaw, Poland, 27 December 2023 told reporters that the government has strong legal advice from imminent lawyers before it took direct action to take over public media EPA-EFE/LESZEK SZYMANSKI POLAND OUT

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Polish Government seems to channel hop on public-media takeover

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The Polish Government has turned down requests to release legal opinions it claims were issued before its recent takeover of public media.

It stated it had not “saved copies of them”, leading one NGO to threaten legal action, claiming a closer study of the sequence of events shows that authorities “lied” about having received external legal advice ahead of the action.

Just six days after taking office on December 13, the Government took control of public media it claims was a “mouthpiece” for the former ruling Conservatives (PiS). It dismissed the managing boards of those organisations and installed its own nominees.

The Government’s moves bypassed the State bodies tasked with selecting and dismissing management of public media.

The newly appointed culture minister Bartłomiej Sienkiewicz cited a constitutional court ruling on public media law as a reason the commercial code had been used to “enforce the State’s ownership rights”.

He used such “commercial law” again to put State media into “liquidation” on December 27.

At the same time, Prime Minister Donald Tusk told reporters that the Government had acted after receiving “opinions from the most eminent lawyers who have no doubts that minister Sienkiewicz’s actions are consistent with the law and the public interest”.

The Government has argued that public media had become a voice for the former ruling PiS and that “urgent action” was required to redress the issue.

NGOs Watchdog Polska and the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (HFPC) then asked for copies of those opinions but were told by the culture ministry that such could not be provided because the opinions “were not recorded by the ministry on a storage medium”.

That response was criticised by HFPC, which said it would now take the issue to court, stating that “the public has the right to know the expert opinions cited by the Government”.

“This is guaranteed by the constitutional principle of transparency of the activities of public bodies.”

In response, Sienkiewicz on February 2 published a post on X with a link to a page on TVP’s website containing two legal opinions apparently supporting his actions, quipping that “for those who don’t know where to look but would really like to find”.

The problem is that one of the linked webpages contained an opinion issued on January 5, well over a week after Tusk’s claim that the Government had opinions supporting its actions.

Another, dated December 21, relates to Sienkiewicz’s actions on December 19, therefore suggesting it was issued after the Government’s takeover of December 19-20.

Controversy also surrounds what happened on the day of the issuing of the documentation on the December 19 takeover, with prosecutors questioning whether the meetings recorded in these documents ever actually took place.

The notary – or solicitor – responsible for compiling and certifying these documents has been indicted by prosecutors for her actions and, according to news portal Salon24.pl, has left Dubai and travelled to South America.

The PiS and Polish President Andrzej Duda have slammed the takeover of public media as “illegal”. That has continued apparently unabated, with scores of journalists and managers already dismissed and new ones appointed in their place.

The Government insists the public media are in liquidation as the State budget does not envisage the necessary funding for them to balance their books.

That is despite the fact that in an interview with all three TV networks in early January, Tusk said money would be found for public media – providing they were “reformed”.

The courts have so far refused to register either the new management or the appointed liquidators of TVP and PR, citing public a media law.

That set up a national media council to appoint and dismiss the management of public media and a Constitutional Tribunal (TK), or court, ruling stating that in using the commercial code, the Government acted “unconstitutionally”.

Still, the Government refuses to recognise the TK as a “legitimate body” due to a dispute over its membership. It has stated it will wait for the “full legal process” to be completed in the appeal courts and, in the meantime, will continue the process of “reforming public media”.

Since the Tusk Government’s takeover, TVP’s news channel TVP Info has apparently suffered a substantial fall in viewing figures and now trails news channels put out by the two main commercial networks and is also well behind Conservative news channel TV Republika.