In a statement issued yesterday, Discovery said it has notified Polish President Andrzej Duda of its intention to bring legal action if the amendment – which would ban companies based outside the European Economic Area from holding more than a 49% stake in Polish media outlets – is definitively approved.
Discovery insists that the amendment would violate a provision in a treaty on commercial and economic relations signed by Poland and the United States in 1990 under which each party undertakes not to subject investments and related activities to “arbitrary and discriminatory measures.”
The parliament’s lower house, the Sejm, passed the controversial amendment in a session on 11 August after a vote in favour of adjourning the session. By forcing Discovery to sell most of its stake in TVN, it would allow government-controlled Polish companies to possibly buy what is currently Poland’s biggest independent broadcaster.
This would seriously undermine media independence and freedom of the press in Poland and would constitute a major step towards completion of the process known as “repolonisation” of privately-owned media outlets, which the ruling party is promoting with the aim of gaining control over them.
Although the Sejm vote approving the amendment defied an earlier vote suspending the session and therefore violated parliamentary procedure, it had the backing of the Sejm’s pro-government speaker. The next stage for the amendment is an examination by the Senate, where the opposition has a majority.
“The proposed change to the broadcasting law threatens press freedom, which has already suffered enormously at the hands of the ruling party, and it aims to bring Poland’s most viewed independent TV broadcaster under control,” said Antoine Bernard, RSF’s director of advocacy and strategic litigation. “We strongly urge the Senate to reject this amendment.”
The broadcast media supervisory agency is meanwhile using the amendment’s submission to parliament as a pretext for not renewing the licence of TVN24, one of the TVN group’s channels, which expires on 26 September. The agency refused to renew the licence again yesterday, arguing that it could make no decision because of the uncertainty about the amendment’s outcome, even though the licence’s renewal is entirely legal under the law as it stands.
Poland is ranked 64th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2021 World Press Freedom Index.