© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A protester holds a placard with the TVN group logo during a demonstration in Bydg in defense of media freedom and against a proposed amendment to the country’s broadcasting law on the foreign capital’s stake in Polish media
By Pawel Florkiewicz and Alan Charlish
WARSAW (Reuters) – Polish lawmakers tabled a bill on Wednesday opposed to silencing a US news channel critical of the government, prompting a swift denunciation of the US, one of Warsaw’s most important allies.
Washington had warned that not renewing the license of Discovery’s own news channel TVN24 could jeopardize future investments in Poland, while opposition politicians condemned the law as an attack on media freedom.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington was “deeply concerned” with the passage of the House of Commons bill targeting Poland’s most watched independent news network and one of the largest US investments in the country.
“Large US commercial investments in Poland connect our wealth and increase our collective security,” he said. “This bill threatens media freedom and could undermine Poland’s strong investment climate,” Blinken said in a statement.
The media law would strengthen a ban on companies outside the European Economic Area that control Polish broadcasters. It was adopted with 228 votes in favor, 216 against and 10 abstentions and now goes to the upper house of parliament, the Senate.
Polish government spokesman Piotr Müller said Poland was introducing rules similar to those in other EU countries and added: “We have the right to regulate capital issues as the Polish parliament deems appropriate.”
TVN24’s parent company, TVN, is owned by US media group Discovery (NASDAQ 🙂 Inc. through a company registered in the Netherlands.
The bill would prohibit such a regulation and comes close to the deadline for TVN24’s license renewal, which expires on September 26th.
Grzegorz Schetyna, an MP for the largest opposition party, the Civic Platform, called the vote on Wednesday in a tweet “an attack on freedom, an attack on the media independent of the government”.
Discovery called it “an attack on fundamental democratic principles of freedom of expression, media independence, and direct discrimination against TVN and Discovery”.
PROPERTY RESERVATION INVOICE
Blinken also urged Poland not to enact laws to make it difficult for Jews to regain property that was confiscated from Nazi German occupiers during the Holocaust and kept by post-war communist rulers.
“We are deeply concerned that the Polish Parliament passed a law today that will open the process for Holocaust survivors and their families, as well as other Jewish and non-Jewish property owners, to the restitution of property wrongly confiscated during Poland’s communist era was severely restricted, “said Blinken.
The bill was passed by the House of Commons and has already passed through the Senate, which means it will now be presented to the President for signature.
“We urge President (Andrzej) Duda not to sign the bill or, in accordance with the powers conferred on him as President, to refer it to the Polish Constitutional Court,” said Blinken.
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said the bill “harms both the memory of the Holocaust and the rights of its victims”.
Blinken said Poland is a key ally in NATO, an alliance “based on mutual commitments to shared democratic values and prosperity”. He added: “These laws contradict the principles and values that modern democratic nations stand for. We urge the government of Poland to demonstrate its commitment to these common principles not only in words but also in deeds.”
In the early evening, Polish opposition MPs said they had shown the ruling coalition of the United Right could not win a majority when they managed to pass a motion to postpone the meeting.
However, joy was outraged when spokeswoman Elzbieta Witek said the vote had to be rerun because she forgot to indicate the date until which the meeting would be postponed.
“What you are doing is absolutely illegal,” said Civic Platform legislator Borys Budka.
Yaroslav Sachajko of the Kukiz 15 party, which is not part of the ruling coalition but supports part of its policies, said the party’s four MPs originally voted for the opposition motion by mistake.