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Poland’s public television news channel halted broadcasting on Wednesday as the country’s new pro-EU administration asserted control over state media, which it said had become a mouthpiece of the rightwing former government.

The abrupt shutdown of TVP Info’s 24-hour news programming, in the face of protests by the rightwing Law and Justice (PiS) party, came as Poland’s culture ministry said the heads of the state television, radio and news agency had been dismissed by the incoming government of prime minister Donald Tusk.

Tusk, who took office last week, had pledged on the campaign trail to dismantle state television, saying state media operated as a mouthpiece of the former government led by PiS. He presented on Tuesday a 2024 draft budget without any state funding for TVP.

Lawmakers led by PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński then held an all-night vigil inside TVP’s headquarters after walking out of a debate in parliament on Tuesday over the broadcaster’s future. On Wednesday, the TVP Info news channel stopped transmitting, but the other two main state media channels continued operating. 

The news channel shutdown was ordered by TVP’s new boss, Tomasz Sygut, soon after he was appointed by the Tusk government on Wednesday morning, Polish media reported. TVP itself did not comment.

Tusk’s Civic Platform party on social media platform X on Wednesday welcomed what it called “the end of TVPiS” following the closure of the news channel. TVP Info had symbolically changed the colour of its headline banner from red to black overnight.

Former PiS premier Mateusz Morawiecki on Wednesday accused Tusk’s culture ministry of taking “illegal actions” that “show how the authorities that supposedly care about the rule of law violate it at every step”. Morawiecki wrote on X: “We will not give up. We will not allow the dictatorship in Poland.”

President Andrzej Duda sided with PiS late on Wednesday, warning Tusk to “respect the constitution” and not circumvent Poland’s media legislation. Tusk responded directly to Duda on X, telling him that “today’s actions are aimed — in accordance with your intention — at restoring legal order and common decency in public life”.

Tusk was appointed prime minister last week after leading a pro-European coalition that won a parliamentary majority in a landmark election in October, marking a sharp break from the era of PiS government.

After taking office, he attended an EU summit in Brussels and promised to restore Poland’s role in the bloc and unlock billions of euros of EU funding that had been frozen over concerns in Brussels about the rule of law in Poland.

But the feuding over TVP illustrates the uphill struggle Tusk faces as he seeks to dismantle a PiS apparatus built up during the eight years in which Kaczyński’s party held power.

During his election campaign, Tusk said the broadcaster had helped spread lies about him and his party and served as a tool of PiS propaganda. Since taking power, he has denied TVP journalists access to events and conferences held by his government. 

“The public media as it exists in its current shape does not deserve to be financed from the taxpayer’s pocket at all,” Tusk said on Tuesday. 

However, Tusk has also talked about “healing” Poland’s public media and it is unclear exactly how far his overhaul will stretch.

A group of PiS lawmakers appealed last week to Poland’s constitutional court, which is dominated by judges appointed by PiS, to stop Tusk from liquidating state television and radio. TVP is less popular in Warsaw and other major cities but remains the main source of information for many residents of Poland’s countryside, a core electorate for PiS.

Kaczyński on Wednesday cast Tusk’s moves as an attack on free speech, arguing that “in any democracy, there must be strong anti-government media”.

Tusk has this week also replaced the heads of the state security, intelligence and anti-corruption agencies and recalled Poland’s representative at the World Bank, Jacek Kurski, a former boss of TVP. 

But the new prime minister will struggle to remove some PiS appointees before the end of their official terms, notably the governor of the National Bank of Poland, Adam Glapiński, who has appealed to the European Central Bank to stop Tusk from bringing him before a state tribunal that could suspend him while reviewing his case. 

Tusk will also need to work until 2025 alongside Duda, who is backed by PiS. Following the October election, Duda supported moves by PiS to delay Tusk’s appointment until last week. He also wields significant veto powers as president.

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