WARSAW (Reuters) – A U.S.-owned broadcaster critical of Poland’s nationalist government could lose its licence due to a proposed change in law, opposition legislators said on Thursday, as they voiced rising concern about media freedoms in the country.
Poland’s ruling nationalists Law and Justice (PiS) have long argued that foreign-owned media organisations distort public debate and do not serve Polish interests, but critics say the government aims to increase control over the media and curb free speech.
Opposition lawmakers say the proposed amendment to the Broadcasting Act takes aim at private broadcaster TVN and its news channel TVN24, which are owned by Discovery.
“The US has been observing the TVN licensing process and the newly proposed legislation with rising concern…Unfettered press is crucial for democracy,” U.S. chargé d’affaires, Bix Aliu, said on Twitter.
“We will not bow to any pressure and we will remain independent, acting on behalf of our viewers,” the TVN Management Board said in a statement.
The draft amendment, submitted to parliament late on Wednesday by a group of PiS lawmakers, would prevent companies from outside the European Economic Area taking control of Polish radio and television stations.
“The draft act aims to clarify the regulations enabling the National Broadcasting Council to effectively counteract the possibility of any entities from outside the European Union taking control of RTV (radio and television) broadcasters, including entities from countries posing a significant threat to state security,” the justification to the bill said.
“There is one aim – TVN is to be stolen… like public media, regional newspapers were stolen from Poles earlier,” said Robert Kwiatkowski, a member of the Left parliamentary group and the National Media Council.
Since PiS came to power in 2015, the opposition says it has turned public television and radio stations into outlets for government propaganda.
In December, state-run refiner PKN Orlen announced it was taking over newspaper publisher Polska Press from a German media group, in what critics said was a bid to increase government control over the regional newspapers it owns.
PKN Orlen says the deal is a simple business transaction.
“A serious state cannot be like a passive leaf in the wind,” Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told reporters. “We must have instruments which help to decide whether a given takeover is appropriate in the territory of Poland or not.”
(Reporting by Alan Charlish and Pawel Florkiewicz, Editing by William Maclean, Kirsten Donovan)