TVP pubcaster appoints controversial president

MOSCOW — Polish filmmakers, including Oscar-winning director Andrzej Wajda, have called for viewers to boycott pubcaster Telewizja Polska Spolka (TVP) as a spat over the appointment of a politically controversial 30 year old as the station’s acting president spreads.

Piotr Farfal’s elevation to the top job at the two-channel pubcaster following December’s board-room coup reignited anger over his alleged links as a teenager to extreme right wing and neo-Nazi politics.

Farfal, who had been deputy chairman of TVP for the previous 18 months — a political appointment made by Poland’s earlier right-wing administration — has admitted that as a teenager he edited skinhead magazine “Front.” The magazine was known for its anti-Semitic stance.

Farfal dismissed a media storm at the time as “absurd,” saying he was “a snotty-nosed kid who let his name be used.”

Now the storm has blown up again following the publication of an open letter from filmmakers in Poland’s leading quality daily newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza opposing Farfal’s appointment.

Wajda, 83, feted with an Oscar for lifetime achievement in 1999, wrote: “It is a shameful situation when public TV is run by a former fascist.”

Local industryites also are angry at cuts he is instituting at the pubcaster just three months before he is due to stand down in July.

Helmer Agnieszka Holland added, “What has been happening in TVP is a scandal and — one could say — a sort of a crime committed on national culture.”

Malgorzata Szumowska, one of Poland’s most acclaimed young art house directors, who made last year’s popular fest-player “33 Scenes From Life,” said she would boycott TVP by refusing to apply for money from TVP’s film fund, one of the few sources of coin in Poland.

“I think the most interesting artistic projects will simply go elsewhere,” she said. “However, it is easy for me to say, since I receive foreign financing. Everybody knows it is almost impossible to make a film without TVP’s support in Poland, so for other filmmakers the situation is extremely sensitive.”

Szumowska’s recent projects were co-financed by German film funds.

Film director Krzysztof Krauze, who directed 2004 Karlovy Vary winner “My Nikifor,” suggested viewers boycott TVP on May Day, a major public holiday that this year will be marked on May 3, “to influence the ratings” and demonstrate that people still cared.

Not all favor a boycott.

In German publisher Axel Springer’s Dziennik, the main competition for Gazeta Wyborcza, commentator Piotr Zareba asked why the call for a boycott came so many months after Farfal took over as TVP’s acting president.

TVP employees also see the boycott as bad news. Many signed an open letter from broadcast unions, other filmmakers and technicians, criticizing the directors backing the boycott for playing politics.

“By boycotting TVP on May 3 you boycott us who are threatened by more than 1,000 lay-offs caused by shortage of money so eagerly spent by politically appointed officers,” the letter said.

Farfal refused to comment, but TVP spokesman Daniel Jablonski said the station planned to screen an “especially attractive” schedule on May 3.

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