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27th Jan 2023

Will Poland's Kaczyński survive his own media law?

  • Jarosław Kaczyński's Law and Justice party took power in 2015 (Photo: Marcin Ejsmont)

Voting on a new media law in Poland on Wednesday (12 August) will test if ruling-party chief Jarosław Kaczyński still has a grip on power after six years of clashes with the EU.

The vote, which begins at 11.30AM in the Polish parliament, will decide on a bill to ban foreign firms from owning majority stakes in Polish media companies.

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Dubbed 'Lex TVN', the law is meant to protect Poland from Chinese and Russian propaganda, according to Kaczyński's government.

But in reality, it is designed to dismantle the US-owned and independent TVN broadcaster in order to help Kaczyński's Law and Justice (PiS) party win the next election in 2023, according to its critics, thousands of whom took to the streets in protests against the move in some 80 Polish cities on Tuesday.

The law is just the latest step in Kaczyński's campaign to turn Poland into a right-wing one-party state on the model of Hungary, which has prompted clashes with the EU on judicial independence, media freedom, and LGBTI and women's rights since PiS took power in 2015.

The media law could harm Polish-US relations and US investor confidence in Poland, TVN's owner, US firm Discovery International, and congressmen have warned.

But it also threatens to destroy the ruling coalition - the United Right - and prompt a vote of no confidence and snap elections, giving Poland's former prime minister and opposition leader, the pro-EU Donald Tusk, an early chance to end the Kaczyński era.

The political crisis arose after Kaczyński suddenly fired his economic-development minister, Jarosław Gowin, on Tuesday because Gowin had criticised Lex TVN, as well as Kaczyński's new welfare package, called the 'Polish Deal'.

Gowin is the head of the Accord party, which has 13 MPs, who had formed part of the United Right's slim majority of 232 out of 460 seats in parliament.

"This dismissal is the de facto breaking up of the governing coalition and the de facto end of United Right," he told press on Tuesday, ahead of an Accord party meeting on Wednesday to formally decide its future.

"All those who want the best for Poland will come with us," Gowin said.

But a government spokesman, Piotr Müller, predicted that PiS will be able to poach enough Accord MPs or MPs from other minor parties, such as Kukiz'15, to pass the Lex TVN and to keep going.

"I am convinced that there will be people in the United Right and in the rest of the Polish parliament who will support the beneficial reforms that we have proposed," he said.

"I am not convinced that we will lose our majority because of this," Müller added.

"Wednesday will make everything clear. Tomorrow will be a watershed day," Jacek Ozdoba, an MP from the United Poland party, another Kaczyński coalition ally, told Polish media on Tuesday.

But relations between the United Poland party chief and Polish justice minister Zbigniew Ziobro, who is even further to the right than Kaczyński and who has advocated leaving the EU, have also become strained in recent times.

Commenting on the developments, Tusk, who recently returned to Polish politics and who took part in Tuesday's media-freedom protests, said "every scenario is possible" when it comes to the ruling coalition's future.

"What happened, had to happen ... a certain grotesque has come to an end," Tusk said on Wednesday on Gowin's departure.

"I know Kaczyński, he doesn't forgive the kind of moves [criticism] that Gowin was making," Tusk added on the psychology of Poland's de facto ruler.

Gowin was sacked 10 minutes before the government's formal press announcement of his dismissal and personally learned that he had been fired from a media leak.

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