BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The top EU rights official expressed concern on Monday over curbs on media freedom in Poland where the ruling nationalists threaten not to renew the broadcasting licence of a critical TV news channel owned by the U.S. giant Discovery Inc.
The case has added to growing worries over backsliding on democratic principles in Poland, as well as leading to a standoff between Washington and its staunch European ally.
The TV regulator told Reuters the broadcaster, TVN24, was in violation of Poland’s cap on foreign ownership of media, and that the body was split on whether to renew the licence after the current one expires on Sept. 26.
The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party submitted draft legal amendments that might challenge Discovery to divest most of its Polish business – estimated to be worth more than $1 billion – to continue broadcasting in the country of 38 million people.
“The new draft Polish law on broadcasting concessions is yet another worrying signal for media freedom and pluralism in the country,” European Union Commissioner for Values and Transparency Vera Jourova said on Twitter.
“We follow closely the situation related to TVN24 whose licence has not been renewed yet.”
The increasingly authoritarian PiS has long argued that foreign-owned media outlets distort public debate and do not serve Polish interests.
Poland recently used its state-run refiner, PKN Orlen, to buy out a newspaper publisher from Germanowners, giving Warsaw more influence over 20 local dailies, thewebsites of which get nearly 17 million visitors a day.
PiS lawmaker Marek Suski was quoted last Saturday as saying the Polish government was moving to increase its influence over TVN, which is the parent company of TVN24 and has more than a dozen channels in Poland, as well as a video on demand platform.
(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Nick Macfie)