WARSAW (Reuters) -Poland’s opposition-led upper house of parliament, the Senate, on Thursday rejected a broadcast reform bill that critics say is aimed at silencing a U.S.-owned, anti-government news channel.
The reforms would strengthen a ban on firms from outside the European Economic Area controlling Polish broadcasters and has been denounced by the United States, one of Warsaw’s top allies, as an infringement of media freedoms.
The Senate voted down the legislation by a 53-37 margin with 3 abstentions.
The legislation is now expected to go back to the lower house of parliament, the Sejm, where the nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) government is struggling to command a thin majority and could try to overturn the Senate’s rejection.
But, in a sign the PiS might be backing off amid a mounting international backlash, President Andrzej Duda, a PiS ally, has indicated that he may veto the bill even if it gets through the Sejm.
The PiS says the legislation is aimed at ensuring fair news coverage, accusing foreign outlets of an anti-government bias. Critics say it is part of a broader effort to muzzle the media.
Since the party took office in 2015, Poland has dropped to 64th place from 18th on the World Media Freedom Index.
The broadcasting licence of TVN24, the news channel most likely to be affected by the legislation, expires on Sept. 26 but it is not clear whether it will be granted an extension if the bill passes.
TVN24’s parent, TVN, is owned by U.S.-based media group Discovery Inc via a firm registered in the Netherlands in order to get around a ban on non-European firms owning more than 49% of Polish media companies.
The reform of the Broadcasting Act would remove this possibility.
“We are…still concerned about the future of TVN and independent media in Poland as the bill can still be passed by the Sejm and the license for our news channel TVN24 is still not renewed,” said Kasia Kieli, President and Managing Director for Discovery in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
If its Polish license is not renewed, TVN24 would probably aim to continue to operate on a Dutch license.
Discovery has said it will take legal action on grounds of discrimination if TVN24’s licence is not extended.
(Reporting by Joanna Plucinska and Anna Koper, additional reporting by Alan Charlish; Editing by John Stonestreet and Mark Heinrich)