Connect to share and comment

Taking control of Poland's airwaves

A left-right coalition has taken control of public media as a presidential election approaches.

Poland's Prime Minister Donald Tusk seen in the viewfinder of a TV camera as he speaks to the media during a news conference at Polish parliament in Warsaw May 6, 2010. (Peter Andrews/Reuters)

WARSAW, Poland — Ex-communists and commie-haters are normally enemies, but in Poland the two groups have formed a bizarre coalition that has taken control of the public media just as the country gears up for an early presidential election.

The unusual bed-fellows are the Democratic Left Alliance, the heirs of the communists who ruled Poland for 45 years, and the right-wing opposition Law and Justice party.

They combined last fall to take control of public television and radio, ousting former neo-Nazi Piotr Farfal, who had once been an ally of Law and Justice, but had then spun off on his own. Now the opposition runs the country’s most popular television and radio channels and the government, led by the centrist Civic Platform party, has proven unable to pass legislation that would wrest away control of public media.

Unusually, the current government has not put much effort into placing its loyalists into senior position in television and radio — something of a break with past precedent. One of the first actions of the 2005-2007 Law and Justice government was to seize control of the board that oversees radio and television, a body it still controls despite the party’s loss of power two years ago.

Being in charge of TV and radio was not much of a priority until the April 10 plane crash, which killed President Lech Kaczynski and many other senior officials, and forced an early presidential vote — the first round of which takes place on June 20.

Now the main channel of public television — TVP1 — is firmly in the hands of Law and Justice, and has become a vital propaganda instrument for Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the dead president’s twin brother and now a presidential candidate.

The most obvious examples of the network’s tilt are popular weekly talk shows that strongly back Kaczynski, as well as a recent documentary about the enormous crowds that gathered in front of the presidential palace during the week-long mourning period. The documentary showed people claiming that the Russians may have been involved in the crash, and accusing the government of having blood on its hands.

Public radio echoes a similar line.