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Piotr Farfal's Poland

A controversial, and powerful, broadcaster riles a nation.

People watch a speech by then-Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski on television in a supermarket in Warsaw Sept. 27, 2006. (Katarina Stoltz/Reuters)

WARSAW, Poland — Piotr Farfal, the controversial head of Polish public television, didn’t come to the job lacking a background in the media.

As a young man he was the publisher of a tiny newsletter called “Front.” His editorial line? “We don’t tolerate cowards, snitches and Jews.” The newsletter was aimed at local skinheads, nationalists and neofascists.

That sort of past — which Farfal has tried to explain away as a youthful indiscretion — has not been enough to prevent him from becoming one of the most powerful men in Polish broadcasting.

His presence is an increasing embarrassment to the government of Donald Tusk, the prime minister and leader of the centrist Civic Platform party, and to the country. Recently the Franco-German cultural television channel broke off cooperation with Polish state television over Farfal’s presence, saying “he does not share our values.”

Open Republic, an organization aimed at stamping out xenophobia and anti-Semitism issued a letter calling it “a shameful and highly damaging thing that a former neofascist is at the head of [public television].”

Farfal got the top job in a rather unexpected fashion. He was plucked from obscurity in 2006 as a 28-year-old activist linked with the nationalist League of Polish Families, and was named deputy director of public television by the previous government of the right-wing Law and Justice party, which had formed a coalition with the League.

At the time, Law and Justice had just taken power and was purging public television of leftists and anyone opposed to their moral revolution, which aimed to stamp out corruption and people tainted by ties to communism from public life.