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Monday, January 24, 2022

Poland’s president vetoes controversial media law following pressure from US

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Poland’s president has vetoed a controversial media law that had been passed in the country’s parliament, under pressure from the US.

Andrzej Duda said on Monday he has decided to veto the bill that would have forced US company Discovery to give up its controlling share in Polish TV network TVN.

The president noted that the bill was unpopular with many Poles and would have dealt a blow to Poland’s reputation as a place to do business.

Duda was facing pressure from the US government over the bill.

He added that it is important for Poland to be seen as an honourable partner with its allies.

The bill, which was passed by the lower house of parliament, would have prevented any non-European entity from owning more than a 49 percent stake in television or radio broadcasters in Poland.

Its practical effect would have targeted only one existing company, Discovery Inc, forcing the US owner of Poland’s largest private television network, TVN, to sell the majority or even all of its Polish holdings.

Polish government leaders pushed the legislation and argued that it is important for national security and sovereignty to ensure that no company outside of Europe can control companies that help form public opinion.

Yet many Poles saw the bill, pushed by the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) that Duda is aligned with, as an attempt to silence a broadcaster with an all-news station, TVN24, and an evening news programme on its main channel viewed by millions.

Mass nationwide protests were recently held in support of the station and of freedom of speech more broadly.

Discovery had threatened to sue Poland in an international arbitration court, vowing to fight for its investment. The network was first bought by another US company, Scripps Networks Interactive, for $2 billion (€1.7 billion) and later sold to Discovery.

It represents the largest-ever American investment in Poland and the company now puts TVN’s value at $3 billion (€2.65).

Duda said he agreed in principle that countries should limit foreign ownership in media companies, saying many other democratic countries — including the United States, France and Germany — have such legislation.

But he also said that in this case, the law would have hurt a business already operating legally in Poland.

He noted that signing the bill into law would have cost the nation billions of dollars, and said he shared the view of many of his fellow Poles that given other problems, the bill was not necessary right now.

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