WARSAW, Poland (AP) – The Polish president said on Monday that he had decided to veto a media bill that would have forced the American company Discovery to give up its majority stake in TVN, a network of Polish television.
For many, it was a victory for free speech and media independence in a country where democratic standards are challenged by the nationalist government. The veto should also be welcomed by Washington, which sought to defend America’s biggest investment in Poland.
President Andrzej Duda noted that the bill was unpopular with many Poles and would have damaged Poland’s reputation as a place of commerce.
“Contracts must be honored,” Duda said at a press conference in Warsaw where he announced his veto. “For us Poles, it is a question of honor.”
The bill, recently adopted by the lower house of parliament, would have prevented any non-European entity from owning more than 49% of the capital of television or radio stations in Poland.
Its practical effect would have targeted a single existing company, Discovery Inc., forcing the US owner of Poland’s largest private television network, TVN, to sell most if not all of its Polish holdings.
Polish government leaders pushed for legislation and argued that it was important for national security and sovereignty to ensure that no company outside of Europe could control companies that help shape public opinion.
Yet many Poles saw the bill, pushed by the ruling Law and Justice party with which Duda is aligned, as an attempt to silence a broadcaster with a 24-hour news channel, TVN24, and a broadcast program. evening news on its main channel seen by millions of people.
There have been recent nationwide mass protests in support of the station and freedom of expression in general. Donald Tusk, the leader of the opposition centrist Civic Platform party who spoke at the protest, said Duda’s decision showed the importance of pressure from the United States – and pressure from the streets.
“No one else will say it’s not worth it, that it’s impossible, that we can’t do anything. We can and we must, ”Tusk said on Twitter.
Discovery had threatened to sue Poland in an international arbitration tribunal, saying it would fight for its investment. The network was first bought by another US company, Scripps Networks Interactive, for $ 2 billion and then sold to Discovery.
It is the largest US investment ever in Poland and the company now assesses TVN’s value at $ 3 billion.
Duda said the bill would have violated the provisions of a Polish-American economic treaty signed in the 1990s, and that Poland could have faced sanctions of up to billions of dollars had he signed it. .
Duda said he agreed with the principle that countries should limit foreign ownership in media companies, saying that many other democratic countries – including the United States, France and Germany – have a such legislation.
He said he would support such legislation which would affect future investments. But he argued that in TVN’s case, the law would have harmed a company already operating legally in Poland.
He also said he shared the view of many of his Polish compatriots that, given other issues, including the pandemic and inflation, the bill was not needed at this time.
Discovery welcomed Duda’s decision, saying, “We commend the president for doing the right thing and upholding the core democratic values of a free press and the rule of law, and we want to thank everyone. viewers and all who supported this important issue. . “