Poland Picks Former Ruling-Party Strategist to Run Public TV

  • Described self as ``bull terrier'' of ruling party founders
  • Appointment follows European inquiries over media freedom

Poland’s government appointed a former ruling-party lawmaker and election strategist to run public television, making good on a pledge to wield more influence in media that has triggered criticism in Europe.

Treasury Minister Dawid Jackiewicz picked Jacek Kurski, who has described himself as a “bull terrier” of Law & Justice party founders Jaroslaw Kaczynski and his twin, the late president Lech Kaczynski, for the post. The move comes one day after President Andrzej Duda signed into a law contested legislation giving the government direct control over appointments in public broadcasters.

Law & Justice, the winner of parliamentary and presidential polls last year, passed new media legislation to end what it sees as “extreme bias” against its policies by broadcasters. The rules have sparked protests from four European media-freedom organizations, saying they may compromise the public media’s autonomy. They will be the subject of a European Commission inquiry next week.

“Kurski is a person who knows and understands media very well,” Jackiewicz told reporters in Warsaw. “He knows how they must function in a way that guarantees all Poles have access to honest and balanced information about politics.”

Nazi ‘Volunteer’

The ruling party has sought to consolidate its power since winning an unprecedented majority in parliament last October, forcing out the boss of the country’s anti-corruption agency, limiting opposition oversight over secret services and changing guidelines of the constitutional court after the tribunal ruled its law illegal. Such moves have raised concern that the system of checks and balances guaranteed by Poland’s constitution is being eroded and sparked street protests in Warsaw and other Polish cities.

Kurski, 49, has been an on-and-off member of Law & Justice since 2002 and helped the party win parliamentary and presidential elections in 2005. He was credited with helping Lech Kaczynski win the presidency that year by suggesting that the grandfather of his main political opponent had “volunteered” to join the Nazi army during World War II. Once the allegations were proven false, Kurski was briefly kicked out of Law & Justice.

“Public television was always my big love, and I invite everyone to work together,” Kurski said on his Twitter account on Friday.

‘Undesirable Effect’

Law & Justice parliamentary caucus leader Ryszard Terlecki said public television’s coverage of ruling-party initiatives have shown “extreme bias” and needed a quick fix. Krystyna Pawlowicz, another lawmaker from the party, said in a Facebook post that public media must be “at the government’s disposal” as Law & Justice needs to have an “open line to voters.”

While human-rights group the Council of Europe, members of the European Parliament as well as the EU executive arm have criticized Poland over its media overhaul, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Thursday said the post-communist nation will probably avoid sanctions over the issue.

In an explanatory letter to the EU executive published on Friday, deputy Foreign Minister Aleksander Stepkowski said media freedom is ‘fully appreciated and respected by the Polish government” and warned that claims “inspired by unjust, biased and politically engaged enunciations might have an undesirable effect.”

(A previous version of this story wrongly identified Kurski’s first name.)

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