Poland’s parliament, its powerful lower house, Wednesday passed a bill that could force Discovery, which owns the nation’s largest independent broadcasting group and news network, to divest its media holdings there.
The legislation, which still requires approval by the Senate and Polish President Andrzej Duda, would ban non-European owners from having controlling stakes in Polish media companies. The brunt of the legislation would fall on Discovery’s TVN, which includes TVN24, an all-news station that has been critical of Poland’s nationalist right-wing government and is considered one of the country’s few independent voices.
After seeming to struggle earlier in the day to muster enough support, lawmakers voted 228 to 216 to pass the bill, with 10 abstentions. Yesterday, a deputy prime minister who opposed the legislation was fired, according to the AP.
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Ahead of the vote, State Department spokesman Ned Price said the matter was being closely watched by the administration of President Joe Biden.
“When it comes to the media, we know that a free and independent media makes our democracies stronger, it makes our transatlantic alliance more resilient, including to those who would seek to divide the alliance and divide us,” he said. “And it is a fundamental component of our bilateral relationship with Poland. And that is why we have urged the government of Poland to demonstrate its commitments to these principles.”
In a statement following the vote today, Discovery: “TVN/Discovery is extremely concerned about the result of the vote in the Sejm [lower house] of the Republic of Poland on the amendment to the Broadcasting Act, but remains resolute in its defense of the rights of the Polish people and the TVN business. The act as adopted is an attack on core democratic principles of freedom of speech, the independence of the media and is directly discriminatory against TVN and Discovery.”
“The outcome should also be deeply concerning to any enterprise investing in Poland. Through this vote, Poland directly undermines the values that have connected Poland with Europe, uproots the foundation of the Polish-American relationship. The Polish parliament has opted to restrict the right of Polish viewers to choose and access reliable and independent information,” the company said.
“We appeal to the upper house of the Polish parliament – the Senate of the Republic of Poland – and the President of the Republic of Poland, Andrzej Duda, to oppose this project and prevent it from becoming law. Poland’s future as a democratic country in the international arena and its credibility in the eyes of investors depend on this. We remain hopeful that the Sejm of the Republic of Poland will reconsider its vote, should it have the opportunity.”
The issue has been an overhang for Discovery, so much so that financial analysts asked about it during an earnings call last week. International chief Jean-Briac (JB) Perrette said Discovery remains “very committed” to the business in Poland but acknowledged that the “environment is obviously challenged.”
“We’re actively talking to all the different constituents and stakeholders to make our case. And we think it’d be very, very economically irrational for the government to try and pass any laws that ultimately would change our position and make the environment way less attractive for foreign investment, not just media, but any foreign investment. And so at the end of the day, we’ll continue to work in that situation aggressively on all sides. The U.S. government, the EU have all been very supportive and fully behind us. And we’ll keep you posted as that continues to go on,” he said.