January 29, 2022

President veto law to muzzle independent news channel

The text was to deal another blow to the freedom of the press in Poland. On Monday, December 27, President Andrzej Duda vetoed a law banning oversight by non-European companies of Polish media. It was a way for the right-wing populist government to target the independent news channel TVN24, controlled by the American Discovery, even if it had claimed that this law should protect the Polish media landscape against potentially hostile actors like the Russia.

The TVN network immediately welcomed the announcement, welcoming the Polish President’s choice of “Good relations with the United States”.

The veto should result in a referral to parliament for reconsideration, Duda said during his televised address.

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Prepare for the 2023 elections

The text, adopted by the Polish Parliament on December 17 and wanted by the populist law and justice party (PiS), in power, was more precisely to prevent companies not belonging to the European Economic Area (EEA, which includes the 27 EU states, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) to hold a majority stake in Polish media companies. This was to oblige the American group Discovery to sell its stake in TVN, one of the largest private television networks in Poland, and in particular in TVN24, its 24-hour news channel considered critical of the conservatives in power.

Marked by the erosion of power, reigning over a shattered coalition, the PiS fears that the overly critical tone of the independent media will prevent it from winning the legislative elections announced for 2023. It also already controls public television TVP, which has become a major asset of the populist government, and most of the regional press.

The Poles were not mistaken. On December 19, thousands of people demonstrated outside the Presidency in Warsaw and elsewhere in the country, waving EU flags and chanting “Free media! “ and “We want a veto! “. Since the PiS came to power in 2015, Poland has fallen 46 places in Reporters Without Borders’ press freedom ranking, to 64e position.

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“Serious risks to freedom”

Andrzej Duda has the support of the PiS, but has had differences on certain points with its leaders in the past. In 2017, he stirred up a storm by vetoing two judicial reforms which, according to him, gave too much power to the Attorney General, who is also the Minister of Justice.

Its veto was therefore announced without questioning the intentions of the PiS. “I think this provision should be adopted in Poland, but for future investments. However, this bill and its amendments concerned entities already present on the market. “, he said during his televised address. “There is also the issue of media pluralism, freedom of expression. I took this into account when making my decision ”, he added.

US Chargé d’Affaires in Warsaw Bix Aliu thanked Duda “For its commitment to democratic values ​​and to the defense of the investment climate in Poland”. He had previously called on the Polish president to block the media law, pointing out that Washington was “Extremely disappointed”. A spokesperson for the European Commission recalled that this law introduced “Serious risks for media freedom and pluralism in Poland”.

Former Polish prime minister and former European Council President Donald Tusk, who heads the opposition Civic Platform party, said President Duda’s decision showed that “Pressure makes sense”.

Poland and the EU have been in a standoff for several years, and Brussels last week launched infringement proceedings following rulings challenging the rule of EU law in Poland.

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The World with AFP