Poland rushes through media law seen as targeting US broadcaster – POLITICO

WARSAW – In an unexpected move on Friday, Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party pushed through parliament a controversial media bill that critics say targets Poland’s largest independent broadcaster, TVN , owned by US media giant Discovery.

The legislation will deteriorate Warsaw’s relations with Washington, which has criticized the law in the past.

The bill only allows companies majority owned by entities of the European Economic Area to hold broadcasting licenses in Poland. This would force the American company Discovery to sell its majority stake in TVN, the largest independent broadcaster in Poland. TVN is officially owned by a company registered in the Netherlands which in turn is owned by Discovery.

TVN and its news arm, TVN24, infuriate the government with critical reporting. The nationalist government led by the PiS tried to bring parts of the Polish media under political control.

PiS insists the law is needed to limit foreign influence on domestic media, but the only company affected by the legislation is Discovery.

The media bill was first approved by the lower house of parliament in August before being rejected by the upper chamber of the Senate, controlled by the opposition.

Its reappearance on the last day of the legislative calendar on Friday came as a surprise as there had been doubts that the government, which has a very fragile parliamentary majority, would have the votes to override the Senate. But the legislation was passed in a swift process which political opposition said violated parliamentary procedure.

It must be signed by the president supported by the PiS Andrzej Duda to become law. Earlier in the summer, Duda hinted he would veto the new rules. On Friday, he said he would “analyze” the bill.

TVN Discovery called the vote “an unprecedented attack on free media.”

“This action targets the biggest and most important Polish ally, as the United States is the base of Polish security and a large part of the Polish economy,” the company said in a statement. The company added that it would “use all legal means to continue the mission of our media in Poland” and that it hoped Duda would veto the bill.

Bix Aliu, Acting United States Ambassador to Warsaw, noted Washington is “extremely disappointed” with the developments and has urged the Polish president to reject the legislation.

The opposition accused the government of pushing forward the bill to distract the country from a host of issues ranging from soaring COVID deaths, high energy prices and an ongoing border crisis with Belarus.

“They are going to wage war on free media”, tweeted Donald Tusk, leader of Civic Platform, the main opposition party.

The legislation adds to the long list of problems from Warsaw to Brussels.

VÄ›ra Jourová, Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the rule of law and media freedom, said in a declaration that the vote “puts additional pressure on a media sector already in difficulty in Poland”, stressing that if this bill becomes law, Brussels “will not hesitate to take measures in the event of non-respect of the right of the ‘EU’.

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