Polish TV boss won't fund anti-regime Belarus channel

The Belarusian-language channel says it aims to counter 'government propaganda' in Belarus, which has a significant Polish population.

Warsaw -- The controversial boss of Poland's public broadcaster TVP on Friday refused to fund a Polish-based station broadcasting to Belarus, where President Alexander Lukashenko keeps the media under tight control.

"TVP can't spend money today on something which isn't produced in Polish and which isn't even (aimed) at Poles," Piotr Farfal told the newspaper Polska, justifying his stance on the satellite channel Belsat TV. "I think the only reason this station still exists is because it gets money from the foreign ministry. I will not accept TVP having to add millions from its coffers."

"If I have to choose between Belsat TV and children's cartoons, my choice is clear," he added of the channel that went on air in December 2007.

The Belarusian-language channel, which has an estimated 200,000 viewers among Belarus' 10 million people, says it aims to counter "government propaganda" there.

Lukashenko, who has ruled the ex-Soviet country since 1994 and is often dubbed "Europe's last dictator" in the West, has imposed severe restrictions on his critics.

He has described Belsat as "stupid" and an "enemy."

Warsaw is a staunch supporter of the Belarusian opposition, and the Polish foreign ministry provides 83 percent of Belsat's annual budget of 26 million zlotys (5.7 million euros, 7.7 million dollars).

Relations between Warsaw and Minsk are rocky due to Polish criticism of Lukashenko's regime, in part because of Poland's concerns over the treatment of Belarus' 400,000-strong Polish minority.

Farfal, who has headed TVP since December, has regularly sparked criticism.

The former skinhead activist was first named to TVP's board by the far-right, euroskeptic League of Polish Families, before the three-party government of which it was part lost power in 2007.

Last month, the europhile French-German channel Arte suspended cooperation with TVP, saying it did not share Farfal's "values."




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