Polish president Andrzej Duda vetoes divisive media ownership law

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Dec. 27 (UPI) — Polish President Andrzej Duda on Monday vetoed a controversial media ownership law that if enacted could have forced U.S.-owned broadcaster TVN24 off the air in the country.

Duda said he has sent the Broadcasting Act back to the Sejm, the lower house of the Polish parliament, to be rewritten because it violated a 1990 treaty between the United States and Poland on business and economic relations.

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In his veto message Duda — who is strongly supported by the ruling Law and Justice Party — said he “had reservations” about law and acknowledged objections to it on the grounds of “media pluralism and freedom of speech.”

The bill was quickly passed this month by the ruling conservative party despite drawing widespread criticism of its provisions mandating that broadcasters operating in Poland be majority owned by entities from within the European Economic Area.

Backers said the measure was necessary to limit the influence of hostile powers such as China and Russia over Polish media, but critics said the bill was crafted to specifically target TVN24 — the country’s most popular broadcaster — because of news coverage critical of the government.

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TVN24 is owned by the U.S.-based Discovery Group. Under the law, it would have been forced to sell at least a 50% stake in order to stay on the air.

The measure last week triggered street protests in which demonstrators urged Duda to veto the law and brought renewed criticism of the Law and Justice Party, which has been the target of complaints by the European Union that Poland has been backsliding on its commitments to the rule of law.

EU Commission Vice President for Values and Transparency Vera Jourova in August tweeted that the law “sends a negative signal” on media freedom and the rule of law, while U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken declared he was “deeply troubled” by the measure, saying it would “significantly weaken the media environment the Polish people have worked so long to build.”