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Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Poland’s Parliament Passes New Media Bill That Limits Media Freedom

Poland's Parliament has voted in favour of a bill that pushes US company Discovery to sell the country's biggest TV network, TVN, thus hampering media independence in Poland

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Divya Dhadd
Divya Dhadd
Journalist

POLAND: Poland’s parliament on Wednesday voted in favour of a new media bill that opponents say is an attempt to silence the TV channel critical of the government.

The bill is an attempt to force Discovery Inc., the U.S. owner of Poland’s largest private television network, TVN to sell its Polish holdings. The government stance is widely viewed as an attack on media independence in Poland.

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Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets across Poland on Tuesday to express their anger at the proposals.

The draft legislation would prevent non-European owners that own huge stakes in stakes in Polish media companies from speaking against the Polish government. In practice, it only affects TVN, which includes TVN24, an all-news station that is critical of the nationalist right-wing government and has exposed wrongdoing by Polish authorities.

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TVN24 is a key source of news for many Poles but the government sees it as a thorn in their side.

The government has argued that existing rules banning companies based outside the European Economic Area from directly owning broadcasters in Poland should be tightened to prevent Chinese and Russian firms from controlling Polish media outlets.

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The law threatens to sour relations with the U.S., a key ally, and deepen EU concern over media freedom in Poland.

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

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement on Wednesday: “Poland has worked for decades to foster a vibrant and free media, this draft legislation would significantly weaken the media environment the Polish people have worked so long to build.”

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The vote in parliament followed two days of political upheaval that saw prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki on Tuesday fire former deputy prime minister Jaroslaw Gowin who opposed the media bill. Gowin’s party, Agreement, had been increasingly at odds with its senior coalition partner, prime minister’s Law and Justice (PiS) party, and has now voted to quit the coalition.

Wednesday’s much-anticipated vote was due in the afternoon but briefly postponed as opposition MPs tried to adjourn the session.

The disarray of Poland’s coalition government led to the loss of the Agreement’s 13 MPs, meaning – the coalition will no longer command a majority in the lower house of parliament.

The bill will now pass to the opposition-controlled Senate, where the upper house may make amendments or reject the bill, reported BBC.

However, the lower house of parliament can overturn any changes and finally approve the bill.

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