Polish media regulations threaten press freedom
LAW AND JUSTICE (PIS), the party that leads Poland does not like criticism. Shortly after coming to power in 2015, he took control of TVP, public television and purged its leadership. Since then, Poland has fallen from 18th place in the world press freedom ranking compiled by Reporters Without Borders, a non-profit group, to 64th, its lowest ranking on record. Now PIS focused his attention on TVN, a television channel owned by Discovery, an American media giant. A bill limiting foreign ownership of media companies passed on August 11 by the Sejm, the lower house of parliament, could force Discovery to sell. The liberals fear that the independent Polish media are threatened.
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“Polish media should be Polish,” said Jaroslaw Kaczynski, president of the ruling party and de facto leader of the country. “Repolonization” has become a buzzword in all kinds of industries. In March PKN Orlen, a state-owned oil refiner, has bought Polska Press, the country’s leading newspaper publisher, from its German owner. The editors were then replaced.
The last objective of Law and Justice is TVN24, a news channel. contrary to TVP, he criticizes the government. He is also influential: his evening news is the most watched newscast in Poland in the first half of 2021, with an audience share of almost 22%, just ahead of TVPrival offer.
The amendment to the Broadcasting Act proposes to ban entities outside the European Economic Area (EEE) to hold more than 49% of the capital of a Polish media company. The party defends “Polish interests”, says Marek Suski, Law and Justice deputy behind the proposed amendment. Critics warn that it aims to TVN24, whose license expires in September and has not yet been renewed. If the amendment passes, Discovery may have to sell the channel.
The ” TVN law ”could however be a source of problems for the party in power. US officials, who jumped on TVNdefense in the past, are concerned. “An unfettered press is crucial for democracy,” tweeted Bix Aliu, US charge d’affaires in Warsaw, in response to the bill. It also added to the tensions that brought down the ruling coalition this week. Jaroslaw Gowin, deputy prime minister and head of the Accord, a pro-business party that was one of the two junior partners in the Law and Justice coalition, was kicked out of government on August 10. He had called for an amendment to the media law that would allow the ownership of companies in the OECD, a group of rich countries including America. He also opposed government-backed tax reforms.
The media law has yet to be passed by the Senate, where Law and Justice does not have a majority. With the next legislative elections scheduled for 2023, the party remains at the top of the polls, ahead of the centrist opposition. He ignored criticism, especially from the European Commission, which also complains of its subversion of the judiciary. Sell Discovery TVN will hurt relations with America. But Mr Kaczynski clearly places more importance on controlling the Polish media. ■
This article appeared in the Europe section of the print edition under the heading “Unwanted Discovery”