The most famous brothers in Poland used to be the Law and Justice party’s Jaroslaw and Lech Kaczynski – twins who went on to become the prime minister and the president, respectively.
The death of Lech Kaczynski in a plane crash in 2010, alongside 95 people from the country’s elites, caused a political shock. So did the very public murder of Pawel Adamowicz, the long-time mayor of the Polish seaside city of Gdansk, in January earlier this year.
The killing of Adamowicz – who was stabbed repeatedly at a charity event in front of thousands of onlookers – came at an increasingly ugly and tense time in Polish politics, with the rhetoric reaching fever pitch.
Adamowicz was popular in Gdansk, having just won another election. But he was also the subject of an investigation into his personal finances and, for some, he became a symbol of corruption and elitism. According to the mayor’s widow, that perception was strengthened by the public broadcaster, Telewizja Polska (TVP).
She blames it for influencing the mentally unstable man who killed Adamowicz: “The behaviour of that man – who had sat in prison and had been indoctrinated by the regime TV – was the result of the hate that had been sown.”
Agata Szczesniak, from investigative website OKO.press, told The Listening Post: “If you regularly watched TVP, you could easily have come to the conclusion that he represented a great danger to Poland, which was not true.”
According to research by Newton Media cited by OKO.press, Adamowicz was covered by TVP nearly 1,800 times in 2018, mostly negatively.
When Jarosław Kaczynski’s Law and Justice party returned to power in 2015, it carried out a complete makeover at the public broadcaster. It installed Jacek Kurski, then-deputy culture minister widely regarded as Kaczynski’s reliable “attack dog”, at the helm.
Kurski made sweeping changes, purging hundreds of journalists and shifting TVP as close towards the government as it has ever been since the fall of communism in Poland 30 years ago. It is a propaganda machine that comes in very handy for Jaroslaw Kaczynski on the eve of the country’s parliamentary elections.
We tried to speak to Jacek Kurski personally, but despite us giving him several months’ notice, his office told us repeatedly that he was too busy.
We did, however, manage to speak to TVP host and president of the Polish Journalists Association, Krzysztof Skowronski.
He told us that moving the network to the right was the only fair way of ensuring more balance in the Polish media market.
“Before 2016, the media in Poland, including TVP, were dominated by the left. After the Law and Justice party victory, TVP started to speak the language of the victors. They reported the world from their point of view, from a conservative perspective.”
He admits TVP has moved too far towards governmental propaganda, but says if it were in the centre, there would be an asymmetry in the market once again.
The left-wing space is firmly occupied by the biggest opposition newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza. And who happens to be the de facto editor-in-chief? Jacek’s brother, Jaroslaw Kurski.
The two grew up in Gdansk and used to be on the same side fighting against communism, in the Solidarity movement – a fight that ended with a peaceful transition to democracy in 1989.
For Jaroslaw Kurski, who did agree to speak to The Listening Post, the current situation at TVP is especially painful: “I am torn about how much I should say, as this is so difficult for me. Because the head of this television is my brother. TVP is a propaganda tool that works on a very simple basis: lie, lie, continue to repeat the lie and you will make it stick.”
His outlet, Gazeta Wyborcza, has become a thorn in the side of the government. “The government wants to destroy Gazeta Wyborcza. It is very intelligent. It is not a face-to-face attack and attempting censorship. They hope to kill us financially. They put a plastic bag over our head and say: ‘try to breathe’,” he told us.
Journalist Rafal Kalukin knows both Kurski brothers personally. He says that, for a long time, they remained on good terms. “It all started to go wrong about 2005, when the Law and Justice party gained power for the first time,” Kalukin reflected. “The conflict was radicalised and it spiralled out of control.”
The two Kurski brothers are now arguably the most striking example of political divisions in Poland that, 30 years since the fall of communism, run as deep as ever. Once on the same team, now they are fighting one another – with the media they control serving as their weapons. And, as Poles head to the polls on October 13, the outcome could shape how this story is told going forward.
Produced by: Flo Phillips and Artur Osinski
Jaroslaw Kurski – first deputy editor-in-chief, Gazeta Wyborcza
Agata Szczesniak – journalist, OKO.press
Krzysztof Skowronski – host, TVP & president, Polish Journalists Association
Rafal Kalukin – journalist, Polityka & acquaintance of the Kurski brothers
Source: Al Jazeera News
The most famous brothers in Poland used to be the Law and Justice party’s Jaroslaw and Lech Kaczynski – twins who went on to become the prime minister and the president, respectively. The death of Lech Kaczynski in a plane crash in 2010, alongside 95 people from the country’s elites, caused a political shock.