By Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk
WARSAW – The leader of Poland’s ruling party has signalled it will try to overturn the Senate’s rejection of a media bill which opponents say is intended to silence a U.S.-owned channel that is critical of the government.
The bill outlines reforms that would strengthen a ban on companies from outside the European Economic Area controlling Polish broadcasters. It has been denounced by the United States as an infringement of media freedoms.
In his first detailed comment since the Senate rejected the bill on Sept. 9, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, made clear the government would make a new attempt to win over parliament.
“The bill may be voted on during the next sitting, before the end of September,” Kaczynski told PAP news agency in an interview published on Wednesday.
The government does not have a majority of seats in the Senate and has only a slim majority in the Sejm lower house.
PiS accuse foreign media outlets of anti-government bias and say the draft legislation is aimed at ensuring fair news coverage.
Critics say it is part of a broader effort to muzzle the media and that it is aimed against TVN24, one of Poland’s biggest news channels.
TVN24‘s parent, TVN, is owned by U.S.-based media group Discovery Inc via a firm registered in the Netherlands.
This avoids a ban on companies that are majority-owned by entities from outside the EEA — which groups EU countries plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway — owning more than 49% of Polish media companies.
TVN24‘s broadcasting licence expires on Sept. 26. It is not clear whether if will be granted an extension.
If its Polish license is not renewed, TVN24 is likely to continue to operate on a Dutch license.
There has been media speculation that the government could try to take over TVN24 via a state-owned entity. Kaczynski ruled out an intervention by any state-owned company including refiner PKN Orlen, gas company PGNIG or any bank.
If the bill wins parliamentary approval, it will still require the backing of President Andrzej Duda. He is a PiS ally but has indicated he could veto the legislation.
Signalling PiS was trying to win him over, Kaczynski told PAP: “He is not a person that cannot be convinced.”