Polish lawmakers overturned on Friday a Senate veto of a controversial media bill seen as targeting a US-owned network that’s often critical of the Polish government.
The lower house, or Sejm, voted 229-212, with 11 abstentions, to reject the Senate’s veto. Poland’s president, Andrzej Duda, will make the final decision on the law.
Duda could approve it, reject it or send to the Constitutional Tribunal, which is friendly to the right-wing government.
The law would prevent any non-European entity from owning more than a 49% stake in television or radio broadcasters in Poland.
This would force Discovery Inc. which owns Poland’s largest private television network TVN to sell the majority or even all of its holdings.
Discovery Inc. is the only non-European media owner in Poland and the law is seen as targeting it.
The US company said the outcome of Friday’s “surprise vote in the Polish Parliament should be deeply concerning to any enterprise investing in Poland and to anyone who cares about democracy and freedom of the press.”
“Through this vote, Poland risks directly undermining the values that have connected Poland with Europe, and uprooting the foundation of the Polish-American relationship,” Discovery said in a statement.
It appealed to Duda to “prevent” the bill from becoming law.
US embassy chargé d’affaires Bix Aliu tweeted: “The United States is extremely disappointed by today’s passage of the media bill by the Sejm.”
“We expect President Duda to act in accordance with previous statements to use his leadership to protect free speech and business,” Aliu said.
TVN management said the vote was an “unprecedented attack on free media” that targeted the US, a key security and economic ally of Poland’s.
It said Discovery Group and Discovery Inc. will defend its interests and investment in Poland and use “all legal ways to ensure that the mission of our media is continued.”
The management said it trusts that Duda will veto the so-called Lex TVN, “in line with his earlier statements.”
Opposition groups on Facebook called for a street protest on Sunday night.
A top European Union official for values, Vera Jourova, condemned the vote on Twitter as targeting the TVN Group and putting ” further pressure on an already troubled media sector in Poland.
If the bill becomes law the EU Commission, the 27-member bloc’s executive arm, “will not hesitate to take action in case of non-compliance with EU law,” said Jourova, who is the commission’s vice-president for values and transparency.
The right-wing Polish government has been at odds with the EU over polices viewed as violating EU values and rule of law.
The government, which was elected in 2015, has taken steps to control the media and judiciary among other areas.
The main nationalist ruling party, Law and Justice, which proposed the media law in the summer, has argued that it’s a matter of national security to prevent outside bodies from being able to influence Polish public opinion.
Its members insisted the law is to protect against ownership coming from non-democratic countries like Russia or China.
Party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Poland’s most influential politician, maintained that state-owned companies will not be buying TVN and that it will most probably remain critical of the government.
The unexpected and last-minute vote on the controversial law drew protests from opposition parties, which allege there was a breach of procedures in the sudden return to the bill.
Opposition leaders also appealed to Duda to veto the bill.