Following pressure from the EU and the US, Polish President Andrzej Duda on Monday vetoed a media ownership law that critics said was aimed at silencing US news channel TVN24.
“I refuse to sign the amendment to the Radio and Television Law and send it back to parliament for reconsideration. This means that I am vetoing it,” Duda said in a televised address.
The law, which was passed by parliament this month, is said to have prevented companies outside the European Economic Area from holding majority stakes in Polish media companies.
This would have forced the American group Discovery to sell a majority stake in TVN, one of the largest private television networks in Poland, and its news channel TVN24.
The government had argued that the law would protect the Polish media landscape from potentially hostile actors such as Russia.
Duda said he agreed with this principle, but that it should not be applied to existing trade agreements and investment treaties.
“The people I spoke to are concerned about the situation. They had different arguments. They talked about peace and quiet … How we don’t need another conflict, another problem . We already have a lot of problems, “he said.
Duda has strong support from the populist ruling Poland Law and Justice (PiS) party, but has shown some differences with the party leadership in the past.
In 2017, he caused a storm by vetoing two judicial reforms that he said gave too much power to the attorney general, who is also the justice minister.
“Pressure makes sense”
President Joe Biden’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan welcomed the development during a call with his counterpart Pawel Soloch and another senior Polish official.
Sullivan expressed “Biden’s appreciation for Polish President Duda’s veto (…) to a controversial media amendment, noting that this sent a positive signal just before Poland took over the presidency of the Organization for the security and cooperation in Europe on January 1, “said a White House spokeswoman. .
The American charge d’affaires in Warsaw, Bix Aliu, thanked Duda “for his leadership and his commitment in favor of common democratic values and for the protection of the investment climate in Poland”.
“The allies are stronger together! ” he said.
TVN’s board of directors, in a statement, welcomed the announcement “with appreciation and joy”, saying the president had “taken for good relations with the United States”.
The United States had urged Duda to veto the law and European Commission spokesman Christian Wigand warned that this would pose “serious risks to media freedom and pluralism in Poland.”
Thousands of Poles protested the law earlier this month outside the Presidential Palace in Warsaw, with many in the crowd waving EU flags and chanting “Free Media!”
Similar protests took place across Poland.
Former EU chief Donald Tusk, who heads the opposition Civic Platform party, said Duda’s decision showed “pressure makes sense.”
The PiS already controls the public television channel TVP, which has become a government spokesperson, and much of the regional press.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF), a media rights watchdog, said the veto was “good news for press freedom, which is in dire straits in Poland.”
Since the PiS was elected to power in 2015, Poland has dropped 46 places in the RSF World Press Freedom Rankings to reach 64th position.
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