RSF addressed the Polish senate by invitation today, explaining its concerns about the proposed amendment and the direct threat it poses to media pluralism and to TVN, a US-owned commercial TV broadcaster.
In the amendment submitted to parliament on 7 July, the ruling PiS party is targeting Poland’s leading independent TV broadcaster on the pretext of combatting disinformation and defending national security. Under the amendment, foreign investors from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) could not own more than 49% of the shares in a Polish media outlet. Outlets violating this requirement would be refused a broadcast licence.
The main and official reason for the amendment, according to the PiS, is to prevent foreign powers “hostile” to Poland, such as Russia and China, from taking control of Polish media outlets.
While it is legitimate to combat propaganda and content manipulation by media outlets originating in authoritarian countries and controlled by their governments, this amendment is pursuing a different goal, in RSF’s view. Its goal is to enable government allies to acquire TVN as they already did with the Polska Press group, as part of the strategy known as media “repolonisation.”
TVN is critical of the Polish government and has long been a target of the authorities, subjected to significant harassment, including a heavy fine. It is fully owned by a company registered in the Netherlands, an EEA member state, but the company is 100% owned by the US media company Discovery.
As such, TVN has until now satisfied the requirements of Polish legislation and its broadcast licences have always been renewed. But if Poland’s parliamentarians vote in favour of the amendment tomorrow, Discovery will have six months to address its non-compliance with the new legislation and will have no choice but to sell the majority of its shares in TVN.
It is not at all clear whether the amendment complies with European law. Community law bans a member state from restricting the shares that a European company based in another member state – such as the company that is TVN’s owner, which is legally based in the Netherlands – may own in a media outlet based in its own territory.
Creating, as the amendment does, an additional condition regarding the nationality of the shareholders would constitute an undue restriction on the rules governing the internal market and the freedom to establish companies, which could only be justified by an overriding public interest that the Polish authorities have not demonstrated.
“In the current context of media ‘repolonisation,’ this amendment is in reality designed to allow the authorities to buy up media outlets via government-controlled companies,” RSF spokesperson Pauline Adès-Mével said. “It thereby threatens media pluralism and media freedom, which is why we urge Poland’s parliamentarians to reject this amendment.”
“Furthermore, the introduction of this amendment is preventing the renewal of TVN24’s operating licence because the regulator is delaying the renewal decision until after the vote. But the law in force today should apply, so we ask the broadcast supervisory authority to renew TVN24’s licence without delay if it satisfies the current legal conditions.”
The KRRiT, the agency that supervises Poland’s broadcast media, has postponed a decision on renewing the licence of TVN24, one of the TVN group’s channels, pending the ruling coalition’s decision on the amendment, although the licence renewal application was submitted more than a year ago. The KRRiT has until 26 September, the date when the current licence expires, to issue its decision.
Poland is ranked 64th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2021 World Press Freedom Index.