As the Polish parliament prepares to debate the controversial foreign media ownership bill on Wednesday, 78 protests against the bill have been planned for Tuesday evening.
The protests are led by the Committee for the Defense of Democracy and supported by several press freedom and human rights groups which have actively been fighting to protect the rights of Polish people on issues ranging from LGBTQ+ to women’s rights. The demonstrations will follow the slogan “free media, free people, free Poland.”
The bill, introduced by Poland’s ruling right wing government, if passed, would prevent non-European ownership of Polish media companies. Specifically, it would force Discovery Inc. to sell its majority stake in the TVN group, which operates TVN24, widely regarded as the leading source of independent broadcast news for many Poles. Valued at around $2 billion, TVN represents the largest U.S. investment in Poland.
Discovery – which is set to merge with WarnerMedia in a mega-deal expected to close mid-2022 – applied to renew its current ten-year media license for TVN 18 months ago. But it is still waiting on the National Broadcasting Council (KRRiT) for approval. The license is set to expire on Sept. 26, 2021.
“The politicization of the license renewal for TVN24 to operate is a real concern. So is the vote that will take place in the Polish parliament this week – not just to us as a company, but to the Polish people, to the Polish economy, and to any company investing in Poland,” said JB Perrette, president and CEO of Discovery International in a statement shared with Variety.
“The rule of law and free media is a crucial part of every democracy, and we will continue to strongly defend TVN’s role as the country’s leading independent news provider. An unpredictable regulatory framework should be very concerning for all potential investors in the market. I hope that Polish regulators and politicians will eventually share this view.”
Poland’s ruling party, Law and Justice, has raised national security reasons to pass the bill, with some lawmakers arguing that it is necessary to protect Polish media from Russian, Chinese or Arab investment. “We need to protect Poland against the entry of various entities from countries that are hostile to us,” lawmaker Marek Suski told AP. Lawmakers also point to other European countries where foreign media ownership is limited, including France and Germany.
If passed, the bill may be expected to strain business and political relationships between the U.S. and Poland.