Polish lawmakers pass bill seen as limiting media freedom

WARSAW, POLAND – The Polish parliament on Wednesday voted in favor of a bill that would force Discovery Inc., the US owner of Poland’s largest private television network, to sell its Polish stakes and is widely seen as an attack against the independence of the media in Poland.

The bill would prevent non-EU owners from having controlling stakes in Polish media companies. In practice, this only concerns TVN, which includes TVN24, a news channel which criticizes the right-wing nationalist government and has denounced the wrongdoing of the Polish authorities.

Lawmakers voted 228-216 to pass the legislation, with 10 abstentions.

The bill has yet to go to the Senate, where the opposition has a slim majority. The upper house can propose changes and delay passage of the bill, but the lower house can ultimately pass it as it wishes. It would then go to President Andrzej Duda, an ally of the right-wing government.

Discovery said it was “extremely concerned” and called on the Senate and Duda to oppose the project. “Poland’s future as a democratic country on the international stage and its credibility in the eyes of investors depend on it,” he said.

The vote in parliament follows two days of political upheaval that saw the prime minister sack a deputy prime minister on Tuesday who opposed the media bill.

The ruling party earlier on Wednesday appeared to lack the votes, but eventually found them.

There was also tension in the streets after the vote, with protesters gathering outside parliament. Some clashed with the police and were arrested.

The media bill is seen as a crucial test for the survival of independent news outlets in the former communist nation, after six years of rule by a populist government that undermined the independence of the media and the justice.

The ruling party has long sought to nationalize the media in foreign hands, arguing it is necessary for national security. Kicking the US owner of TVN out of the Polish media market would be a huge victory for the government, after the state oil company bought out a large private media group last year.

His political opponents, however, believe that TVN’s independence is tantamount to saving media freedom and consider the survival of Polish democracy to be at stake.

TVN’s 24-hour news channel, TVN24, is a key news source for many Poles, but it is also a thorn in the side of the government. He is often critical and exposes the wrongdoing of officials. Government supporters see him as biased and unfairly critical.

Critics of the government have long feared that Poland is following the path set by Hungary, where Prime Minister Viktor Orban has gained near-total control over the media as the private media has retreated or come under allied control of the leader.

TVN represents the largest American investment ever made in Poland. The company was bought for $ 2 billion by another American company, Scripps Networks Interactive, which was later bought by Discovery.

The bill added to the tension between Poland and the United States.

On Wednesday, parliament also passed another bill opposed by the United States and Israel – a law that would prevent former Polish owners, including Holocaust survivors and their heirs, from recovering property expropriated by the regime. communist country.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement Wednesday that the United States was “deeply troubled” by the legislation targeting TVM.

“Poland has worked for decades to foster a vibrant and free media,” said Blinken. “This bill would considerably weaken the media environment that the Polish people have worked for so long to build.”

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PA diplomatic writer Matthew Lee contributed to this report.

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