Delayed licence renewal for Poland’s TVN24 news channel sparks concern

Last-minute decision seen as pressure on independent media by right-wing government

People attend a ‘free media’ protest in Wadowice, Poland in August. Photograph: Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images

People attend a ‘free media’ protest in Wadowice, Poland in August. Photograph: Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images

 

Poland’s media regulator has renewed the licence of the country’s main private news channel, TVN24, after a 19-month delay which fuelled concerns about pressure on independent media in Poland.

The decision, taken just four days before TVN24’s existing licence was due to expire, means that the channel, whose often critical coverage of the government has angered officials, can continue to broadcast in Poland.

However, in a sign that the pressure on TVN, which is owned by the US media conglomerate Discovery, is unlikely to ease, the median regulator also on Wednesday night issued a resolution that companies from outside the European Economic Area should not own more than 49 per cent of a Polish broadcaster.

The resolution also said that the head of the media regulator should ask the government to pass new legislation on foreign ownership of broadcasters, as well as seek legal clarity from the constitutional tribunal.

‘Bittersweet’

TVN described the decision to extend its licence as “bittersweet” and said that it proved “there was never any legitimate reason to deny or delay the licence”.

However, it expressed concern that the media regulator was using the accompanying resolution “to challenge current media ownership rules” and warned that this “undermines the democratic legislative process itself”.

“It appears that the Polish authorities are seeking new rulemaking on media ownership as a way around the legislative processes,” it said in a statement. “The rule of law, freedom of the press and stability for foreign investments are still very much at risk.”

The delay in renewing TVN24’s licence comes amid broader pressure on independent media that has seen Poland fall from 18th to 64th in the World Press Freedom Index – below Malawi and Armenia – since the conservative-nationalist Law and Justice party (PiS) took office in 2015.

Claque

During its years in power, PiS has reduced the public broadcaster to a claque, used a state-owned oil group to buy up a swath of local media outlets and funnelled advertising from state-owned companies to supportive media groups.

The government also put forward proposals earlier this year for a new tax on advertising revenues, which sparked an unprecedented blackout from private media groups in protest at the move, which they saw as a serious – and targeted – threat to independent journalism.

In an escalation of the pressure on TVN, PiS MPs in the lower house of parliament also voted through a Bill in August that would force Discovery to sell its stake in TVN.

The Bill was subsequently rejected by the opposition-controlled upper house, and Poland’s president Andrzej Duda has also expressed reservations about it. But PiS officials have previously indicated that they would try to revive the Bill later this month.

– Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021