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Polish president tangles with new government in state media battle

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Disagreements over funding are proving a headache for newly elected Prime Minister Donald Tusk.

ANNOUNCEMENT

Poland’s political battle over state media continues as the new pro-European government has put them into liquidation after the president blocked funding.

Newly elected Prime Minister Donald Tusk is trying to free the media from the political control of Law and Justice (PiS), which held power for eight years until December 13.

President Andrzej Duda, an ally of previous conservative rulers, vetoed the new government’s bill that would have provided 3 billion zlotys (about 693 million euros) for public media service.

Instead, Duda proposed a new bill that eliminates such funding.

The liquidation offers state television, radio and news agencies and their employees greater protection from political dispute, guaranteeing their jobs despite a lack of funding and allowing for restructuring.

The new government has said the lengthy liquidation process can be reversed if necessary.

Polish state media has become the first battleground between the coalition government of Tusk, a former EU figurehead, and PiS, long accused of leading Poland towards authoritarianism.

Its members and allies maintain a presence on state TV, radio and news agencies.

Duda remains in office for another year and a half, and his veto is an early sign of the difficulties Tusk is likely to face.

Some observers say PiS wants to maintain control of state media and push its message before local governments and next year’s European Parliament elections in the hope of regaining some power.

Tusk said his cabinet will present a new bill that will take into account Duda’s views and shift the funding in question from state media to children’s healthcare.

He also said untangling the former ruling party’s hold on state media will take time.

“We are confident that our actions are in line with the law,” Tusk insisted at a press conference.

Tusk won power on the promise of restoring national unity and democratic norms, including through public media reform. His government holds 248 seats in the 460-member Lower House or Sejm.

Public media in Poland are funded by taxpayers and the constitution requires them to be free from political bias.

However, critics have accused Law and Justice of using the media as a mouthpiece for propaganda that has divided the nation by spreading disinformation, xenophobic and homophobic content, while seeking to discredit Tusk and other pro-EU politicians.

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