Poland’s PM rejects US criticism of ‘deeply troubling’ media bill

Opposition says bill aims to gag US-owned channel that is critical of Poland’s right-wing government

Protesters opposed to the media bill outside the Polish parliament building in Warsaw on Wednesday night. Photograph: Piotr Nowak/EPA

Protesters opposed to the media bill outside the Polish parliament building in Warsaw on Wednesday night. Photograph: Piotr Nowak/EPA

 

Poland’s prime minister on Thursday rejected criticism of bills on media ownership and property restitution passed by parliament, after the United States, one of Warsaw’s most important allies, denounced the legislation.

In a tumultuous sitting of the lower house of parliament on Wednesday, Polish lawmakers passed a bill that would strengthen a ban on firms from outside the European Economic Area controlling Polish broadcasters.

The opposition says the bill aims to gag the news channel TVN24, which is owned by US-based media group Discovery Inc and is critical of Poland’s right-wing nationalist government.

US secretary of state Antony Blinken said Washington was “deeply troubled” by the passage of the bill, which he said targeted the most-watched independent news station in Poland and one of the largest US investments in the country.

Vera Jourova, European Commission vice-president and commissioner for values and transparency, said the bill sent a “negative signal”.

“We need a #MediaFreedomAct in the whole EU to uphold media freedom and support the rule of law,” she tweeted.

Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki denied the bill was aimed at TVN.

“We do not have any intentions regarding a specific TV channel. It is just about tightening the regulations, so that there is no situation in which companies from outside the European Union would buy media in Poland,” he told a news conference.

The bill now goes to the Senate, which must vote on it within a month and where it is expected to be defeated. “The democratic majority in the senate will never approve an attack on independent media,” tweeted Tomasz Grodzki, the Senate speaker. “We will uphold freedom of speech.”

It would then return to the lower house, or Sejm, where the government would need an absolute majority to pass it. Analysts were divided on Thursday as to whether the PiS would be able to summon the votes, with the far-right Confederation party already saying its 11 MPs would abstain.

Property restitution

Mr Morawiecki later on Thursday also defended parliament’s decision not to exempt Nato member countries from the ban. “A military alliance is one thing, a common legislation and a common economic area is another,” he said.

The United States is a founding members of the North Atlantic Alliance.

Mr Blinken had also called on Poland not to proceed with legislation that is expected to make it harder for Jews to recover property seized by Nazi German occupiers during the Holocaust and kept by postwar communist rulers.

Mr Morawiecki said the law would implement a 2015 ruling by Poland’s constitutional tribunal that a deadline must be set after which faulty administrative decisions can no longer be challenged.

“This has nothing to do with the fears expressed by our American friends about us,” he said.

A European Commission spokesperson said the EU executive would continue following all issues in Poland, including the restitution bill, and would “take any action necessary within the powers conferred to it by the [EU]treaties”. – Reuters/Guardian