Poland’s Conservative Government Puts Curbs on State TV News

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Piotr Maslak was a journalist at Poland’s state television and the first one to be fired under the new conservative government. Credit Maciek Nabrdalik for The New York Times.

WARSAW, Poland — The ax fell for Piotr Maslak just 12 days into the new year, when his new boss at Poland’s state television told him that there was no way to work together anymore, citing “different perspectives.” Mr. Maslak, 40, agreed, and now says he is “proud of being the first” to be sent packing under the conservative government that took power seven months ago.

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Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of the governing Law and Justice party, in June. Polish television networks have become an arena in recent battles between Polish authorities and European institutions. Credit Kacper Pempel/Reuters

Since then, at least 163 other people, including the most prominent news anchors and reporters in Poland, have either been fired or quit state broadcasting, according to the Journalists’ Association, one of the two main organizations representing Polish journalists.

“They did not want to participate in political pacification of the media,” the group says on its website.

The departures are evidence of how swiftly and firmly the Law and Justice Party of Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the government’s de facto ruler, has moved to control state broadcasters and offer up what critics call a conservative, nationalist message to match the worldview of Mr. Kaczynski, 67, and his allies.

And they have intensified concerns among journalists and proponents of civil liberties about the effects of the authoritarian drift of governments in Poland and other Eastern and Central European countries, with potential risks to freedom of expression and dissent.

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Names of journalists who have been fired or have quit Polish national TV and radio stations since the last parliamentary elections, displayed on the sidewalk in front of the prime minister’s office. Credit Maciek Nabrdalik for The New York Times

“They took off the gloves and don’t even attempt to hide anything,” said Mr. Maslak, who worked for the state broadcaster for eight years. The message, he said, is: “That’s the way we see national media. It must be representative of the government. If you don’t agree, you don’t have to work here.”

Friends followed him out the door in March, for example, when they argued that the television news should broadcast video of a large antigovernment protest that day, but their bosses ordered them to show a news conference of Poland’s Roman Catholic episcopate instead.

“They were fired the next day,” said Mr. Maslak, who now works for a private radio station, TOK FM, where he hosts a breakfast talk show.

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