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Poland: Senate votes down controversial broadcast reform bill

A full page ad in support of the independent broadcaster TVN in the Polish daily newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza in August

A full page ad in support of the independent broadcaster TVN in the Polish daily newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza in August

The opposition-led Polish Senate rejected a broadcast reform bill Thursday that critics charge targets an American-owned station, sending the bill back to the lower house of parliament known as the Sejm.

The controversial reform bill would strengthen a ban on firms outside the European Economic Area from holding a controlling stake in Polish television and radio. Critics charge it is aimed at silencing TVN and its news channel TVN24, which is critical of the government.

TVN is owned by the US-based Discovery Inc. but is registered in the Netherlands. The new legislation would remove this workaround.

The broadcast license for TVN is also currently set to expire on September 26, but it is unclear whether it will be renewed. Discovery has said it is willing to go to court to maintain its stake in the Polish broadcast network.

Divisions in ruling Law and Justice party

Poland's ruling Law and Justice party, know by its Polish acronym PiS, argues the law is necessary on national security grounds. PiS would like to curb foreign ownership, the party says, to prevent outsiders from influencing public opinion.

Through allies of the party, President Andrzej Duda let it be known last month that he is prepared to veto the bill as written. Duda said the bill is "incomprehensible" to key Polish ally the United States, which has troops currently stationed in Poland among other paramount security concerns.

Last month, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he was "deeply troubled” by the proposed bill following its passage in the Sejm.

The rejection of the bill by the Senate means the bill returns to the Sejm where it will test the ruling party's grip on the legislative process following several defections over the bill. Currently PiS holds a thin majority, but there are questions about expending further political capital on something the president has said he would veto.

Press freedom advocates and Discovery denounce the bill

PiS has been in power since 2015. In that time, Poland has dropped from 18th to 64th on Reporters Without Borders' World Press Freedom Index.

Pavol Szalaj, a representative of the Paris-based press freedom group, traveled to Warsaw and addressed a group protesting the proposed measure outside the Senate.

Citing other threats to media in the past and the current target, Szalaj said, "TVN has been a jewel in the crown of Polish democracy for decades."

Kasia Kieli, president and managing director for Discovery in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said the company was "concerned about the future of TVN and independent media in Poland as the bill can still be passed by the Sejm and the license for our news channel TVN24 is still not renewed."

Discovery has said it would sue for discrimination if TVN's license was not renewed.

ar/sms (AP, Reuters)


Updated : 2021-09-28 18:00 GMT+08:00