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Last Updated:  Tuesday, 1 April, 2003, 15:19 GMT 16:19 UK
Poland gripped by 'bribery' row
By Jan Repa
BBC Central Europe analyst

Lew Rywin
The story began when producer Lew Rywin visited Adam Michnik's paper
Poles will soon be voting in a referendum on whether to join the EU. A Polish commando unit is fighting in Iraq. But the Polish media are obssessed with "Rywingate".

Lew Rywin is a Polish film producer, whose co-productions include Spielberg's Schindler's List and Polanski's The Pianist.

He also heads the Polish subsidiary of the French TV channel, Canal Plus, which is linked to the Franco-American media and utilities giant, Vivendi.

Adam Michnik is chief editor of Poland's most widely read serious newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza - and one-time hero of Poland's anti-Communist opposition.

As a succession of politicians, media bureaucrats and civil servants have come before parliament's investigation committee, the plot has become murkier and murkier
"Gazeta Wyborcza" is owned by Agora - a Polish media consortium, itself part-owned by the American communications company, Cox Enterprises.

Agora recently announced an aggressive "mergers and acquisitions" policy.

It badly wants a national television presence - and has been eyeing the Polish commercial station, Polsat.

Secret recording

Enter Poland's centre-left government under Prime Minister Leszek Miller - member of Poland's last Communist leadership and now a thoroughly western Social Democrat.

Adam Michnik
Michnik waited five months before publishing the story
Mr Miller's government has been preparing legislation preventing the same company from owning both a national newspaper and a national television channel.

Mr Miller says he wants to safeguard media pluralism.

Agora claims the government is trying to manipulate the market in favour of the state television service, TVP.

According to Mr Michnik, Lew Rywin came to him last summer, asking for a $17m bribe.

In return, Mr Rywin would persuade the government to water down the proposed law to Agora's advantage.

Mr Michnik secretly recorded the conversation.

Open and shut case? Hardly...

Public confusion

Why, people ask, did Gazeta Wyborcza, Mr Michnik's paper, wait five months before publishing the story?

Mr Michnik says he didn't want to prejudice Poland's case during the final crucial rounds of EU negotiations.

The overwhelming impression is of a political establishment bound together in an impenetrable network of social friendships... and plain old fashioned nepotism
So much for an open and credible media, his critics retort.

Prime Minister Miller admits he knew about the case almost from the start.

Why didn't he inform the public prosecutor?

Because, he says, he didn't take it seriously.

As a succession of politicians, media bureaucrats and civil servants have come before parliament's investigation committee, the plot has become murkier and murkier - and the public more and more confused.

Mr Rywin, who denies any wrongdoing, and Mr Michnik have both testified. Mr Miller is to be called on 12 April, and President Alexander Kwasniewski himself could be asked to testify after that.

Alienation

The media is full of rumours. Who said what to whom when? Who did - or did not - attend this or that party held by President Aleksander Kwasniewski?

No-one has been charged.

The overwhelming impression is of a political establishment bound together in an impenetrable network of social friendships, mutual obligations, business interests and plain old fashioned nepotism.

Leszek Miller
Miller's power base could be eroded by a Michnik TV station
One persistent rumour is that President Kwasniewski - whose final term in office expires in 2005 - and Adam Michnik are plotting to undermine Prime Minister Miller and his Social Democrats - in order to establish a new centre-left party, less obviously linked to the old Communists.

Agora's purchase of the downmarket Polsat TV channel would, it's been suggested, allow Michnik to influence the so-called "plebeian" electorate - the natural power-base of the Social Democrats.

But who knows?

Poles are due to vote on EU membership on 8 June.

The EU Commission has already identified Poland's "culture of governance" as a source of worry.

Most Poles, when asked, support EU entry.

But it is thought many could abstain from voting as a mark of alienation from domestic politics.




SEE ALSO:
Polanski 'touched' by Oscar win
25 Mar 03  |  Entertainment
Pianist sweeps French awards
23 Feb 03  |  Entertainment



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