WARSAW (Reuters) - The Polish government called on Wednesday for an administrator to take charge of state-owned broadcaster TVP, moving to end a messy power struggle involving a former neo-Nazi skinhead who currently heads the company.
Piotr Farfal, who once edited a magazine known for its anti-Semitic, homophobic views, became acting chief executive of Polish Television (TVP) last year after outmanoeuvring rivals. Critics say his political views have shaped TVP’s news coverage.
“Today I requested the appropriate court to appoint an administrator to manage and supervise what is happening at TVP,” Treasury Minister Aleksander Grad told a news conference.
Grad said he had documentary evidence that Farfal had mismanaged TVP through misuse of public funds and tax irregularities.
He also urged President Lech Kaczynski to swiftly sign into law a government bill that would restructure public media.
If the court agrees to the government’s request, an administrator will be able to overrule Farfal and his board in the running of TVP.
Farfal, 31, says he has renounced his youthful association with neo-Nazi ideas, which are particularly controversial in Poland, which lost six million of its citizens, about half of them Jews, during Nazi Germany’s brutal wartime occupation.
Now affiliated with the staunchly conservative League of Polish Families, Farfal raised eyebrows during campaigning for June’s European Parliament elections by ensuring that Libertas, a party with no elected representatives in Poland, received at least as much coverage as the country’s main political parties.
Libertas, which opposes further European Union integration, failed to win any Polish seats in the election.
Adding to the confusion, members of TVP’s own supervisory board turned against Farfal last week, suspending him and replacing him with a former deputy. But the government, though keen to oust Farfal, branded that move technically invalid.
Grad accused Farfal and what he called TVP’s “highly politicised” supervisory board of wasting public money.
“The situation (at TVP) is bad but the easiest way to resolve it is for President Kaczynski to sign the new media bill now waiting on his desk,” said Grad.
Apart from making it easier to remove Farfal from his post, the new bill would cut back state funding for public media, scrap Poland’s national television and radio licence fee and prepare TVP for digitalisation.
The bill also aims to limit the scope for the kind of political meddling that has plagued Polish public media since the end of one-party communist rule in 1989.
“Constant changes in supervisory boards and management boards and constant changes in political alliances in TVP destabilise the situation at the company,” said Grad.
Kaczynski, a strong critic of the centre-right government, blocked the government’s previous attempt last year to reform public broadcasting because of concerns over how it would affect financing of the sector.
Kaczynski’s twin brother Jaroslaw heads Poland’s main opposition Law and Justice party (PiS). Farfal owes his position in TVP to the PiS-led coalition government ousted in 2007.
Editing by Sonya Hepinstall