Poland’s leaders caught up in battle for airwaves

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Police officers block the entrances of the Television Information Agency (part of the Public Television, TVP assets network) on 11 January 2024
Image caption,Poland’s public broadcaster has seen a heavy police presence since senior opposition figures staged a sit-in there last week

Outside Poland’s main evening news studio there’s a row of police stationed for protection.

The entire building of public broadcaster TVP is surrounded by metal barriers and more police officers, shivering in the snow.

There is a battle over control of the airwaves here that is dramatic in itself.

But it’s also part of a much broader power struggle that began when elections last autumn ended eight years of populist rule.

“It’s quite stressful. It’s crazy!” TVP news presenter Zbigniew Luczynski admits as he heads past the police to go on air, a bundle of scripts in one hand.

“But our mission is very important to us: to tell the truth – and be objective.”

When Donald Tusk ran for election late last year, his coalition promised to restore balance to the media and stop funding a “factory of lies and hatred”.

Under the previous right-wing government, public TV and radio channels had become fiercely partisan – some say dangerously so.

So in December, the new culture minister sacked TVP top management and the 24-hour news channel was knocked off air.

Senior opposition figures denounced an illegal takeover and laid siege to TVP offices. They overwhelmed security to burst into the lobby and stage a sit-in.

A rival management team later entered the main news building in the city centre.

When we went behind the scenes at TVP last week the protesters had gone from reception. But the police, constant ID checks, and the nerves remained.

With news HQ still occupied, the journalists had moved into TVP’s main studios building, primarily used for entertainment programmes.

Teams were researching, writing and editing wherever they found space, including in a former bathroom with taps poking from the tiled walls.

Journalists from TVP-Info stand around a computer in a bathroom
Image caption,Newly recruited journalists are finding space wherever they can to work from – including bathrooms – at TVP’s TV centre

The 24-hour channel, TVP Info, is back on air, but it’s broadcasting from little more than a broom cupboard.

The flagship evening news show has also returned.

To mark the break, Wiadomosci was rebranded as 19:30 – the first name change in its history.

The old team have gone, led by the famous “faces”. Only the technicians remain. “Still here, like the cockroaches,” as one of them joked.

“We wanted to change everything, starting with the language. Because for the last eight years it has been the language of hate, of exclusion,” Pawel Pluska, the new editor of 19:30 explained.

“I want to show that this is a television that is open to everyone and all views will be presented here – and they are.” https://roketgubuk.com/

On screen behind him during an editorial meeting were images from an opposition protest the previous night in Warsaw. TVP sent teams to cover it, keen to show their impartiality in action.

The rally was called by former ruling party Law and Justice (PiS) in defence of “free media” and against the actions of the coalition government.

“There is no more democracy,” one of the protesters, Jacek, told me bluntly. “They break the rules. They have their own rules.”

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