Polish private TV channel gets Dutch licence to continue broadcasting

Legislation to curb foreign-owned media criticised for curtailing press freedom

Poland's privately owned 24-hour television news channel has been granted a broadcasting licence by the Netherlands, which should allow it to remain on air under European Union rules if its local licence is not renewed next month.

TVN24 is wholly owned by US media group Discovery Inc, and new legislation passed last week by the lower house of the Warsaw parliament aims to prevent Polish media organisations being majority-owned by companies from outside the European Economic Area.

Despite protests in the capital, the Bill will now go to the upper house, the Senate.

Prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki maintains the bill is an essential piece of national security legislation aimed at protecting Poland's broadcast sector from authoritarian or corrupt external purchasers – such as companies with links to China or Russia, or international "narco-businesses".


Opponents of the Bill, including Mr Morawiecki's predecessor Donald Tusk, and the European Commission, say it's a bid by the conservative government to restrict independent media freedom, following the lead of Viktor Orban's Hungary.

Despite that criticism, the passage of the Bill looks assured. The lower house voted in favour last week by 228 to 216, with 10 abstentions. And while the opposition has a slim majority in the Senate, it can only modify or delay legislation.

Unresolved issues

In advance of the Senate vote, Kasia Kieli, president of Discovery EMEA, disclosed that TVN24 had applied for and been granted a Dutch broadcasting licence under EU regulations.

Discovery owns 100 per cent of TVN24 through Polish Television Holding BV, which is registered in Amsterdam.

"In the event that the National Broadcasting Council does not renew the TVN24 licence by September 26th, the Dutch licence will allow us, in accordance with Polish and EU law, to continue broadcasting," said Ms Kiele, a Harvard graduate who set up Discovery in Poland in 2000.

While the Dutch licence may allow TVN24 to continue broadcasting after September 26th, she added that it did not resolve the issues raised by the new legislation. “The future of TVN and the freedom of the press in Poland are still at risk.”

US secretary of state Antony Blinken said last week that the Biden administration was "deeply troubled" by the passage of the Bill, which not alone "threatens media freedom" but which, he warned, "could undermine Poland's strong investment climate".

European Commission vice-president Vera Jourova echoed that concern: "Media pluralism and diversity of opinion are what strong democracies promote and do their utmost to protect – not fight against."

Peter Cluskey

Peter Cluskey

Peter Cluskey is a journalist and broadcaster based in The Hague, where he covers Dutch news and politics plus the work of organisations such as the International Criminal Court