Polish president vetoes controversial media bill slammed by US

Andrzej Duda blocks law proposing a ban on non-European owners from having controlling stakes in Polish media firms.

The TVN24 television channel studio in Warsaw, Poland
Many Poles saw the bill, pushed by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party that Duda is aligned with, as an attempt to silence the American-owned news channel TVN24 [File: Kuba Stezycki/Reuters]

Polish President Andrzej Duda has vetoed a controversial media bill that critics said was aimed at silencing the American-owned news channel TVN24.

Announcing his decision on Monday, Duda noted the proposed legislation was unpopular with many Poles and would have dealt a blow to Poland’s reputation as a place to do business.

“I am vetoing it,” Duda said in a televised statement, following heavy criticism of the law from the European Union and the United States.

The bill, recently passed by Poland’s lower house of parliament, would have prevented any non-European entity from owning more than a 49 percent stake in television or radio broadcasters in Poland.

Its practical effect would have targeted only one existing company, Discovery Inc, forcing the US owner of Poland’s largest private television network, TVN, to sell the majority or even all of its Polish holdings. TVN24 is the network’s news channel.

Many Poles saw the bill, pushed by the governing Law and Justice (PiS) party that Duda is aligned with, as an attempt to silence a broadcaster that airs independent and often critical reporting of the authorities.

Mass nationwide protests were recently held in support of the station and of freedom of speech more broadly, while Discovery had threatened to sue Poland in an international arbitration court over the legislation.

The government had argued the law would protect Poland’s media landscape from potentially hostile actors such as Russia.

Duda said he agreed with this principle, saying many other democratic countries – including the US, France and Germany – have such legislation.

But he said it should not be made to apply to existing business arrangements and investment treaties, noting that it would have hurt a business already operating legally in Poland if put into effect.

He also said that signing the bill into law would have cost the nation billions of dollars, adding that he shared the view of many of his countrypeople that it was not currently necessary.

The US charge d’affaires in Warsaw, Bix Aliu, had earlier called on Duda to veto the bill, saying Washington was “extremely disappointed” by the legislation.

“We expect President Duda to act in accordance with previous statements to use his leadership to protect free speech and business,” Aliu said.

European Commission spokesman Christian Wigand had also criticised the proposed legislation, stating it would pose “severe risks to media freedom and pluralism in Poland”, while Discovery had said the law “should alarm any enterprise investing in Poland and anyone who cares about democracy and freedom of the press”.

PiS already controls public television broadcaster TVP, which has become a government mouthpiece, and much of the regional press.

Since the party was elected to power in 2015, Poland has dropped 46 places in Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index, falling to 64th position.

Source: News Agencies