Polish president Andrzej Duda vetoes controversial media law

US had warned that bill posed threat to media freedom and investment climate

Polish president Andrzej Duda speaks during a press conference at the Presidential Palace in Warsaw on Monday. Photograph: EPA/Andrzej Lange

Polish president Andrzej Duda has vetoed a bill on media ownership that would have forced US conglomerate Discovery to sell its majority stake in Poland's biggest independent broadcaster, TVN.

The bill, put forward by MPs from the conservative-nationalist Law and Justice party (PiS), drew fierce criticism at home and abroad, with the US –Poland’s main security guarantor – warning that it posed a threat to media freedom and the investment climate.

Mr Duda, an ally of PiS, had previously expressed reservations about the bill, which would have prevented companies from outside the European Economic Area owning controlling stakes in Polish media groups.

In an address broadcast on Monday, Mr Duda said he had decided to use his veto, warning that the bill could breach a deal on trade relations that Poland had signed with the US.

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“The majority of my countrymen ... don’t want more fights. And my job as president is to act in such a way as to avoid these fights,” he said. “If we signed a deal – and we did sign a deal – we have to keep it. If we don’t keep our deals with others, others won’t keep their deals with us.”

Mr Duda also said he was concerned by the bill’s implications for media pluralism.

Discovery hailed Mr Duda’s decision as a “victory for the Polish people”.

“We commend the president for doing the right thing and standing up for core democratic values of a free press and the rule of law, and we want to thank all the viewers and everyone that has supported this important issue,” the company said in a statement.

Bix Aliu, the US chargé d'affaires in Warsaw, also welcomed the move, and thanked Mr Duda for "protecting the investment climate in Poland". "Allies are stronger together," he wrote on Twitter.

Pressure on media

PiS MPs had argued that the bill was necessary to prevent companies from undemocratic states from taking control of Polish media, with the party's leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, at one point claiming Poland needed to protect itself from the entry of money launderers and "narco-businesses".

The bill came against a backdrop of broader pressure on the independent media since PiS took office in 2015, and was widely seen as an attack on TVN, which provides critical coverage of the government. This year Poland’s media watchdog delayed the renewal of the broadcasting licence of TVN’s main news channel, TVN24, until just four days before it was due to expire, even though the application had been submitted 19 months earlier.

Mr Duda said he generally supported the idea of limits on foreign ownership of Polish media groups, pointing out that other countries had such restrictions, and called on Poland’s parliament to consider such legislation. But he said that this should apply to future investments, not those already in existence.

He noted that TVN had been granted a licence to operate in Poland, and was “carrying out its economic activity ... in an entirely legal manner and one approved by the Polish state”, and questioned whether the six-month deadline that the law would have set for the company to sell its controlling stake would have allowed it to receive a fair price. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021