The Public Media Alliance calls on Poland’s Senate to reject the controversial media ownership bill, which poses a serious threat to media independence and pluralism.

Updated 13 August 2021

Despite protests across the country and the government losing its majority, the Polish parliament has narrowly approved a bill that would greatly curtail non-European ownership of Polish broadcasters.

The bill passed on Wednesday evening by 228 votes to 261, despite a successful vote earlier in the day to postpone the process. The parliament’s speaker allowed a second run amid calls of “Fraudsters” by the opposition. The bill will now head to the senate for approval, but is ultimately dependent on its return to the lower-house, or Sejm, where the government will need another majority for it to pass.

There are serious concerns that the bill will be used to rein in critical outlets such as TVN, one of Poland’s largest private broadcasters. TVN is owned by US media group Discovery, which would be forced to sell its majority stake in the company. Campaigners fear that this will force it to shift its editorial position ahead of the next elections.

If it passes the senate, the bill will only stand to further curtail pluralism and the diversity of opinions in Polish media, which have diminished since the election of the Law and Justice party (PiS).

Krzysztof Bobinski of Poland’s Society of Journalists told PMA: “The drive by Poland’s governing Law and Justice party to close down TVN, the US owned television broadcaster, if successful, marks a major step forward in their bid to establish a one party state in Poland”

Find out more: Anti-foreign media amendment inches closer as TVN24’s licence is suspended

Opposition politicians have described the bill as autocratic and an attack on fundamental freedoms and independent media, with many drawing comparisons to the foreign ownership laws in Hungary that have helped Prime Minister Viktor Orban consolidate power.

The European Commission (EC) has also been critical. Responding to the vote, Vera Jourova, the EC’s vice-president for values and transparency, said: “Media pluralism and diversity of opinions are what strong democracies welcome, not fight against”.

In a statement, Discovery called the bill “an attack on core democratic principles of freedom of speech, the independence of the media and is directly discriminatory against TVN and Discovery.” TVN also appealed to the senate to prevent the bill from becoming law, saying: “Poland’s future as a democratic country in the international arena and its credibility in the eyes of investors depend on this”.

All too familiar

The ruling party’s stance against foreign media and critical voices is nothing new and is part of an ongoing campaign of media control. From a proposed tax on advertising revenue to the purchase of media outlets by state-backed companies, the Polish government is marching ahead with its ambition to ‘Repolonise’ the country’s media. The PiS have 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 such attacks and attempts to control the narrative. 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 widely criticised for its biased coverage of the 2020 presidential election; the broadcasting of hate speech; and its own attacks, in the form of SLAPPs, on critical voices.

It is imperative that the Polish Senate reject the media ownership bill. While this may only delay the inevitable, it will help to send a clear signal that such attempts to curtail media independence and pluralism will only act to further diminish democracy in the country.

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