Thousands protest media ownership law targeting Poland’s largest private television network

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Protests took place in dozens of cities across Poland today in response to parliament passing a bill that would force the US owner of the country’s largest private broadcaster, TVN, to sell its majority stake .

Meanwhile, nearly 2 million people have already signed a petition launched this morning calling on the president to veto the bill. Many rival media organizations have also expressed their solidarity with TVN.

They argue that the freedom and plurality of the Polish media landscape are threatened by the bill, which would ban entities outside the European Economic Area (EEA) from owning Polish media. This would in practice hit TVN, which is owned by US conglomerate Discovery, Inc. The station’s coverage is often critical of the government.

But supporters of the legislation – which was passed by the national-conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party – argue that it would simply fill a loophole in the existing law, that it would mirror the rules of some other countries in the country. EU, and that it is in Poland’s national interest to prevent foreign media ownership.

Polish Parliament unexpectedly passes bill forcing sale of US-owned television network

At the main protest in Warsaw, thousands gathered in front of the presidential palace, waving banners saying “Free media, free people, free Poland” and calling on President Andrzej Duda to veto the bill.

Among those who spoke to the crowd was Donald Tusk, the leader of Poland’s largest opposition party, the Civic Platform (PO). He recalled that one of the first demands of the Solidarity movement which helped overthrow communism was media freedom.

“We are here to keep this free media today,” he said, quoted by Interia. “If we stand together, we will win. Together we will sweep away this bad government; there will be no trace of them.

Other speakers included the mayor of Warsaw (and deputy head of the PO) Rafał Trzaskowski; Włodzimierz Czarzasty, one of the leaders of The Left, the second largest opposition group; and Adam Bodnar, who served as human rights commissioner until this year.

Demonstrations were organized in around 100 other towns and villages. In Lublin, a thousand people gathered; in Kielce and Szczecin, a few hundred each, reports Onet. In Krakow, more than a thousand people came to the medieval market square.

Among those who addressed the crowd was Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz, leader of the center-right Polish People’s Party (PSL). He warned that the proposed law threatens not only media freedom, but also Poland’s national security by creating “conflict with the United States, our greatest ally”.

Shortly after the bill was passed by parliament on Friday, the acting head of the US embassy in Warsaw said “the United States is extremely disappointed.”

This was followed later in the day by a declaration of the State Department warning that “the law would undermine freedom of expression, undermine media freedom and erode the confidence of foreign investors.” The European Commission has also warned that he “will not hesitate to act” if the bill becomes law.

Meanwhile, nearly two million people have so far signed an online petition released by TVN this morning declaring that “free media is the foundation of democracy” and calling on Duda to veto the law. By 9 p.m. he had collected over 1.8 million signatures.

A number of other private media have also expressed their support for TVN. Among them: the liberals Gazeta Wyborcza, the country’s largest non-tabloid daily, and center-right Rzeczpospolita; the Wprost and Polityka weekly; and the two main Polish news sites, Onet and Wirtualna Polska.

Duda – a PiS ally who has rarely exercised his veto power – has yet to say whether he will sign or veto the bill. A third possibility is that he can refer it for evaluation to the Constitutional Court, a body which is widely considered to be under the influence of the PiS.

State broadcaster TVP, which is used as a spokesperson for the PiS, has sought to defend the bill. He notes that the legislation is simply intended to “tighten and clarify” an existing ban on the ownership of Polish media outside the EEA, which Discovery escaped by owning TVN through a Dutch subsidiary.

On last night’s newscast, TVP accused TVN of “manipulating public opinion” and said its “employees, contrary to journalistic practice, openly favor total opposition”. TVP news broadcasts have in the past referred to TVN as a “fake news factory”.

TVP also aired a special report this evening revealing “the whole truth about the creation of TVN”. He reiterated that the station was founded by “people associated with the [communist-era] secret Service”.

TVN, an American company, sues the deputy leader of the Polish ruling party for calling it a “pro-Russian Soviet creation”

Main image credit: Jakub Porzycki / Agencja Wyborcza.pl


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