Thursday, March 12, 2009

Polish media bill targets former neo-Nazi head of TV

By Gabriela Baczynska
Mar 12, 2009

WARSAW - Poland's center-right ruling party and leftist opposition unveiled Thursday plans to reform the state television broadcaster which would allow for the removal of its controversial head who has a neo-Nazi past.

Piotr Farfal, a onetime skinhead and former editor of a neo-Nazi magazine known for its anti-Semitic, homophobic views, became acting chief executive of Polish Television (TVP) in late 2008 after an internal power struggle at the broadcaster.

Prime Minister Donald Tusk's government needs the new bill to oust Farfal, a member of the right-wing, staunchly Roman Catholic League of Polish Families (LPR).

Farfal says he has renounced his youthful association with extreme rightwing ideas, which are particularly controversial in Poland, which lost millions of its citizens, including Jews, during Nazi Germany's brutal wartime occupation.

The bill would force a shakeup in the TVP management, scrap Poland's national television and radio licensefee and prepare TVP for digitalization.

Tusk's Civic Platform says the bill would also reduce the scope for political meddling in public-owned media.

"Today we are presenting a joint project aimed at reforming the public media," said Jerzy Szmajdzinski, deputy speaker of the lower house of parliament and a member of the small leftist SLD opposition party.

Tusk needs SLD support to overcome an expected veto of the bill by President Lech Kaczynski, a conservative who blocked a similar attempt to reform public broadcasting last year.

Kaczynski is twin brother of Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of Poland's main opposition party, Law and Justice (PiS), which led a coalition government in which Farfal's LPR also served until Tusk's party defeated them in elections in October 2007.

Farfal and many others in the state television hierarchy owe their positions to that period of PiS-led government and, under current rules, cannot be easily dislodged.

Public media in Poland has remained vulnerable to political interference since the end of one-party communist rule in 1989.

In deference to leftist insistence that TVP should continue to receive public funds to support its 'educational' mission, senior Civic Platform lawmaker Zbigniew Chlebowski said a "public mission fund" would replace the current license fee.

It was not immediately clear how the new fund would work.

Parliament is expected to approve the media bill by early June, Szmajdzinski said.

(Writing by Gareth Jones; editing by Katie Nguyen)

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