Exclusive: Shutting down Poland’s TVP World is good news for Vladimir Putin, says deputy director after Tusk takes over public media

In an exclusive interview with Remix News, Paweł Pietkun, TVP World’s deputy director for correspondents and foreign offices, says that no one expected Poland’s English-language news channel to be taken off the air by Donald Tusk. It is still not clear whether TVP World will soon resume its broadcasting or will simply be shut down despite its undeniable success after two years of existence.

editor: REMIX NEWS
author: Olivier Bault

TVP World, owned by Poland’s public broadcaster, TVP, is the only Polish news & current affairs channel in English. Until before Christmas, it could be watched on satellite television around the clock and it was playing an important role in countering Russian propaganda, including regarding events in Ukraine. TVP World presented the Polish point of view on international affairs. It had nearly 440,000 subscribers on its YouTube channel after two years of existence and 250,000 people from around the world visited its website in October.

However, after Donald Tusk’s new government took control of the public media, we learned in a late December announcement that TVP World was suspending operations until mid-January. Is that correct?

Yes.

As an insider, holding an important position at TVP World, do you understand why the channel was shut down and can you tell us how it was done?

It took place in such a way that simply our signal suddenly ceased to be broadcast. Why? To be honest, I don’t have the faintest idea.

We were an English-language station, commenting only on events in the region. We were the voice of the region. That’s precisely why so many of the region’s governments looked upon us favorably. It was very easy for us, for example, to interview the president of Lithuania or the prime minister of Estonia. We weren’t interested in Polish domestic politics, because we were making television that was supposed to be interesting for Western viewers.

And indeed, we were an obvious counterweight to Russian propaganda. We also had programs that showed the Russian lies.

So everyone in our editorial office was surprised when we were shut down along with other TVP channels on December 20 and could not resume broadcasting later.

The surprise was not only among TVP World’s editorial staff. I saw some reactions, for example from people who are also interested in what is happening in Ukraine and are also trying to unmask Russian propaganda. This is the case of a well-known political scientist of Russian origin in Germany, Sergej Sumlenny, who is the founder of the European Resilience Initiative Center. He expressed his surprise publicly on the X platform and called on the Polish authorities not to shut down TVP World. Taking this channel off air, whether it be for a few weeks or longer – maybe even forever, it seems – is rather good news for Vladimir Putin, don’t you think?

It certainly is good news for Vladimir Putin. I read the Russian media, and I can tell you they immediately noted with glee that TVP World was not broadcasting anymore. Indeed, when it comes to informing about the war in Ukraine, we have now made room for Russia’s narrative.

Isn’t there another similar TV channel somewhere else in Central and Eastern Europe?

No, there is no other TV channel of this kind in our part of Europe. Some German media outlets, such as Deutsche Welle, do have a news service that includes video feeds. Estonian TV is trying to have an English-language news service, but they only broadcast it on the Internet. Apart from TVP World, no English-language TV station from our region would report on what is happening here and give a voice to Ukrainians, for example. Our TV station was the only channel of its kind. As for the war in Ukraine, we had three correspondents there when we were shut down, including one correspondent from the frontline.

So TVP World broadcasted not only via the internet but via satellite too, right?

Yes, and our channel was also on cable TV in the United States, Canada, and Switzerland, for example. We could also be watched as a regular TV channel – not just via the internet – throughout Northern Europe as well as Central and Eastern Europe.

TVP World has been in existence since November 2021. Approximately how many viewers did you have after two years of existence?

It’s hard for me to say how many viewers we had because no one has conducted viewership surveys. However, we could see what kind of reach we had by our brand recognition. We became recognized fairly quickly because of our rapid response to the war in Ukraine. We sent correspondents there immediately. I also went there twice to the front as a correspondent. We could see by the audience’s reactions that we had quite a large reach. But I can’t say how many viewers it was worldwide.

And what did the content look like roughly?

We had hourly news services around the clock. We had two main editions — at 8 p.m. and midnight. We also had very good discussion and debate programs. We also had reruns when it was evening in the United States because our main audiences were also overseas. Our program actually consisted only of news, interviews, and discussions about the most important things in the world and our region.

When the headquarters of Polish public television, TVP, on Woronicza Street were taken over by police forces and security agencies hired for this purpose by Donald Tusk’s government, Belsat TV, which is a TV station broadcasting to Belarus in Belarusian, was also taken off the air. Is Belsat now back on the air as opposed to TVP World?

Yes, Belsat is functioning and broadcasting again. I don’t know to what extent this channel has regained its viewers after a few days’ break. I don’t know, because after the forceful takeover of TVP channels by Donald Tusk’s government, I was deprived of access to (the) television (studio) within days. My access card was deactivated, and so I could no longer enter. It was full of police and security agents. Shutting down Belsat was also a huge mistake and was an action sure to please the Kremlin and Lukashenko.

They reported on the Okopress website that the new foreign minister, Radoslaw Sikorski, said that TVP World was full of PiS trolls, i.e., trolls from the Law and Justice party. This is a very serious accusation, especially since it is the Polish Foreign Ministry that primarily funds TVP World. What is your reaction to this accusation, and do you consider yourself to be a PiS troll?

This is utter nonsense. As I mentioned earlier, we did not do information, reports, or discussion programs on Polish internal affairs. For example, we did cover the elections in Poland, but we did so in the same way as we reported on the elections in Bulgaria, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, etc. Our role was to inform. I don’t know anything about some PiS “trolls” at TVP World, and we did not receive any feedback that would make us believe that we were considered as such.

Besides, even if we wanted to act as PiS trolls, the TVP World program line was completely different from other TVP channels and there was no room for this. I personally do not feel like a PiS troll or any kind of troll. We were doing a very good news channel, which gained many viewers and great recognition in the world.

And do you have any ties to the Law and Justice party on your CV?

I don’t. I have been non-partisan since birth, and non-partisan I will die. I have no ties to the Law and Justice party. We tried our best to be as objective as possible, to be unbiased, and to keep Poland’s internal affairs out of TVP World. I have spoken to reporters myself, bringing this to their attention. We were keen to represent Poland’s interests a bit in the context of what is happening in the region and the world.

There was no room in this vision to talk about Poland’s internal affairs.

The suspension of TVP World came as a big surprise to your entire editorial staff, but perhaps you now have some hypotheses as to why it happened.

Yes, it was a big surprise for us, because until the very end, I explained to the reporters, often young people, that TVP World had nothing to fear since we were not involved in Polish politics on any side. On the other hand, I can understand what the Tusk government was afraid of. TVP World’s editorial offices were located on the first and second floors next to the main entrance to TVP headquarters, so it was the first TV station to be seen upon entering the headquarters.

The introduction of the police there, as can be seen for instance in the photo published by Sergej Sumlenny you mentioned, where you can see four big policemen walking toward the editorial office, did not look good for Donald Tusk’s government. I think that the government was probably scared that we would report that we were being surrounded by police. In fact, until the very end, even when we were broadcasting exclusively over the internet, we did not give information about what was going on at the TVP headquarters on Woronicza Street.

The fact that it is still unclear what will happen next and whether the broadcast of TVP World will be resumed may be due to the same concerns that you will start reporting on these events on Dec. 20–21, don’t you think?

There may be such concerns, but our line was to represent Polish interests. And to represent Polish interests is not to report on the political brawls inside our country. Perhaps this suspension now, the fact that the channel is not broadcasting, is related to the fact that the current Polish government is afraid of something. It’s difficult for me to comment and answer that because as I say, our task was something completely different.

We had built a strong brand, a strong international television station that reported on international affairs. What a waste. Wrecking this project is a real crime.

Do you think that it might actually be the case that TVP World will not go back on the air, that they will just close it down?

I don’t know. I really don’t know.

And what is your official situation now? Have you been dismissed?

I am exempt from the obligation to provide work. I have been stripped of my director’s powers, which means I am no longer a deputy director at TVP World. I still have an employment contract and am formally an employee with no work obligations, which means that I am not supposed to show up at the workplace.

But you still get a salary, right?

This I do not know. It will all become clear at the end of the month. By law, I should, but time will tell.

As we have seen, the law is not always followed by the new government team…

Yes, and that’s why I say: I don’t have the faintest idea whether I will get paid, although I should.

Writing recently about your dismissal along with other directors, the Polish media reported that you were the head of TVP World news services, which is not true. Why did they write this?

Because they didn’t check. No one called me about it to ask, by the way. And besides, it was not secret information. I appeared on the TVP website as deputy director of TVP World for correspondents and foreign offices, not as head of news services.

Did you see the events from the inside when the new management team showed up just before Christmas, assisted by security agents from private agencies hired by the government and backed by the police?

Yes, I saw these events from the inside, because I was there for a few more days. It wasn’t until Dec. 27 that my access was revoked, and I haven’t been on-site since Dec. 27.

So, on Dec. 20, 21, and 22, when it was hot, were you there?

I was on the spot and asked reporters and correspondents to work normally, to make programs normally, as if they were being broadcast live.

And what was the situation inside from the point of view of those present? Were there any concerns, or any violence?

There was no violence as such. The situation was not very comfortable because there were plenty of police and it was full of security agents. They continually checked our documents, whether we could be there or not. They controlled us very often. And that’s just it. It is difficult to work when a uniformed officer is standing next to you.

You have been in journalism for quite a long time, right?

For quite a long time, indeed, since 1995.

Have you experienced another similar situation before or have you heard of such a situation in the Western media?

No, I myself have not experienced such a situation before, and I have not heard of such a situation in the Western media. This happened to me for the first time in my life. While I have seen similar situations in Belarus and Russia, where this can sometimes happen, I personally had never gone through such things before.

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