WARSAW—Poland’s President Andrzej Duda said on Monday he vetoed a controversial media bill that would have forced U.S. company Discovery to give up its controlling stake in Polish television network TVN, with the president acknowledging free speech concerns of the bill’s opponents and suggesting it would have strained relations with the United States, a key Warsaw ally.
Duda said at a Dec. 27 press conference in Warsaw that, while he backs future legislation that would curb the ability of foreign capital to control Polish media outlets, the current bill’s retroactive impact would be unfair to investors and would violate a U.S.-Poland trade treaty signed in the 1990s.
“If we signed an agreement, we have to abide by it,” Duda said. “Then we can say we’re an honorable nation. And that’s how I want Poland to be seen by its allies.”
The bill, recently passed by the lower chamber of the Polish parliament, would have blocked any non-European entity from owning more than a 49 percent stake in television or radio broadcasters in Poland. Dubbed “lex TVN,” the bill would have forced Discovery to relinquish its majority stake in TVN, the largest private television network in Poland.
Some critics of the bill have alleged it was motivated by a desire on the part of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party to punish TVN for critical coverage. Former Polish premier Donald Tusk, who leads the main opposition party and made remarks to that effect at recent anti-lex TVN demonstrations, said in a tweet Monday that a combination of street protests and U.S. opposition to the bill forced Duda’s hand.
In a nod to concerns raised about the bill, Duda said one of the arguments weighing on his decision was “the matter of media plurality and freedom of speech.”
Duda made clear, however, that his veto doesn’t put the issue of foreign ownership of media in Poland to rest, urging lawmakers to reconsider the legislation and come up with a version that doesn’t have a retroactive impact on investors.
“For those who want to invest in our country, in the future, after such regulations take effect, they’ll have clarity on the conditions under which they can manage their investment,” Duda said.
The Law and Justice party, of which Duda is a member, has long said that foreign media groups wield too much power in Poland and distort public debate.
“I believe that generally limiting the possibility of holding shares or stocks in media companies is sensible when it comes to foreign capital,” Duda said at the presser, citing examples of the United States, France, and Germany, which have such laws in place.
“I share the opinion that it should be introduced in Poland, but for the future,” he added.
Calling the veto a “victory for the Polish people,” Discovery said in a statement that it “commend[s] the president for doing the right thing and standing up for core democratic values of a free press and the rule of law.” TVN praised the decision in a statement, saying Duda stood up for press freedom good relations with the United States.
The Chargé d’Affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Poland, Bix Aliu, took to Twitter to thank Duda for the decision, saying the decision was good for democracy and “protected the investment climate in Poland.”