Polish president vetoes media law that targeted US broadcasting giant

Poland’s President Andrzej Duda said he has vetoed a controversial media bill that had raised concerns about freedom of speech and Warsaw’s relationship with key ally the United States.

Unexpectedly rushed through parliament this month, the legislation would have tightened rules around foreign ownership of media, specifically affecting the ability of Polish broadcaster TVN, owned by US media company Discovery Inc, to operate.

For many in Poland, it was a victory for freedom of speech and media independence in a country where democratic norms are being challenged by the nationalist government.

President Duda 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, but did not rule out the possibility of it being reintroduced in the future.

“I believe that generally limiting the possibility of holding shares or stocks in media companies is sensible when it comes to foreign capital … I share the opinion that it should be introduced in Poland, but for the future,” Mr. Duda said.

“The bill and it’s amendments concern entities which are already present in the market … There is also the issue of media pluralism, of freedom of speech. When making my decision, I took this element into serious consideration.”

The legislation 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 Discovery Inc. forcing the owner of Poland’s largest private television network, TVN, to sell the majority or even all of its Polish holdings. Discovery had threatened to sue Poland in an international arbitration court, saying it would fight for its investment.

Duda said the bill would have violated the provisions of a Polish-US economic treaty signed in the 1990s, and Poland could have faced possible penalties reaching in the billions of dollars if he had signed it.

Poland’s ruling nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party has long said that foreign media groups have too much power in the country and distort public debate.

Critics say the government’s moves against foreign media groups are part of an increasingly authoritarian agenda that has put Warsaw at loggerheads with the European Union.

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