With the suspension of TVN24’s licence and a draft media bill to ban non-European media ownership underway, media pluralism in Poland continues to be threatened.

On 29 July, the Polish National Broadcasting Council suspended the licence extension of TVN24, a television channel financed and owned by the American company Discovery. The suspension came soon after a parliamentary commission voted and approved a proposal that could force out broadcasters directly or indirectly owned by a company outside of the European Economic Area. While 16 voted in favour of the proposal, 12 voted against it while one abstained. The proposed amendment to the Broadcast Act will be up for parliamentary debate on 11 August.

According to the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS), the bill aims to update media regulation to reflect those of other European Union countries. PiS also said the regulation would prevent Polish media companies from being “bought by an entity from Russia, China, or an Arab country” to protect Poland from “hostile” nations, Euractiv reported.

Press Cub Polska – a journalist association that is against the proposed amendment – said in a statement on 8 July that the amendment was “nothing more than an attack on the independent media”. Following news of TVN24’s licence suspension, the group maintained their position, adding, “When it comes to this “Lex TVN” bill, as they call it, it is unacceptable to pass a law against a single economic entity that plays an important role in the media market and is simply an independent medium that challenges the government.”

The ruling party’s stance against foreign media is not new and is part of its continued attempt to limit media pluralism in Poland and limit critical voices. From a proposed tax on advertising revenue to the purchase of media outlets by state-backed companies, the Polish government is on its promised path to ‘Repolonise’ the media landscape and shut out and financially strangle independent media. The party has long been against independent foreign media, saying that such companies have too much influence and have been deliberately critical of the government.

Meanwhile, the country’s public media have not been insulated from the attacks on pluralism. With the government’s push to remove dissenting voices in the media, it is imperative that an independent public broadcaster exists to represent pluralism in both audiences and opinions. But, since taking office in 2015, PiS has eroded the independence of and trust in public broadcaster Telewijza Polska (TVP). Heavy government influence over the public broadcaster has resulted in TVP being heavily critiqued for its partial coverage of the 2020 presidential election; the broadcasting of hate speech; and its own attacks, in the form of SLAPPs, on critical voices.

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These criticisms have bearing not only on pluralism but on democracy. TVP’s election coverage, for instance, has been deemed in violation of the electoral code. “The public broadcaster is not complying with its statutory principle of pluralism, impartiality, balance and independence in presenting the election campaign,” Adam Bodnar, Poland’s human rights commissioner, was quoted as saying in Notes from Poland. These continued attempts to limit pluralism – both within the private and public media sectors – will ultimately lower the availability of a wide range of media and opinions for citizens, negatively affecting their right to information, which is critical for informed democracy.

The Public Media Alliance will continue to advocate for diverse independent and robust, accountable public media in Poland.

Header Image: Warsaw, Poland – July 10, 2021: View on TVN and Discovery television headquarters at Wiertnicza street. Credit: MOZCO Mateusz Szymanski/Shutterstock.com