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‘Lex TVN’ and its consequences for the freedom of Polish Media

— September 9, 2021

Time will show if the ruling PiS party will, once again, succeed in implementing a law, which would only hinder Poland’s already weak position in the European Union. 

In August 2021, the party currently governing Poland, the Law and Justice Party (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, PiS), introduced an amendment to the Polish Broadcasting Act. The proposed legislative change passed te Sejm (the lower house of parliament) and is yet to be presented to the Senat (the upper house of parliament). The amendment would prohibit companies from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) from owning more than 49% of the stakes in Polish radio and television stations. The law, now informally called ‘Lex TVN’, is believed to be aimed directly at one of the biggest television stations in Poland – TVN, which is owned by Discovery, the American broadcasting company. 

Since 2015, the Law and Justice Party has been known for its willingness to alter the Polish law, putting in question the existence of the rule of law as well as human rights (as argued by the European Union). The examples of the threats to the EU’s aforementioned values range from the changes made in the Constitutional Tribunal (which resulted in most of the judges being dependent and politically polarised), through the infamous ruling banning de facto all legal abortions (banned abortions in cases where the foetus is malformed or severely damaged), to the “Lex TVN”. Therefore, by pursuing a conservative agenda, the government has constrained the ability of women to decide on their reproductive rights, questioned the rule of law and now, poses a threat to the freedom of establishing and running a business. It can be also argued that the new amendment will hinder freedom of speech, as TVN is known for constant criticism of PiS’ actions as well as for its liberal viewpoint, in comparison to the government-controlled conservative TVP broadcaster.

Image via Flickr/user:Tony Webster (u:diversey). (CCA-BY-2.0).

Nevertheless, as argued by the PiS party, Poland has to guard its sovereignty and therefore has the right to constrain western influence. It has to be noted that patriotism as well as Catholic values are very important for Polish citizens, especially for the electorate of the Law and Justice Party. Historically, Poland used to be a satellite state of the Soviet Union and was ruled in an authoritarian manner for over thirty years. This still shapes the understanding and mentality of a lot of citizens to this day and can to some extent, justify their strong patriotism (as argued by Piotr Buras in his article “How Poland Is Drifting Away from Liberal Democracy”). 

The vote is to be presented to the upper house of parliament, where the ruling PiS party has a minority. According to the Human Rights Watch: “It remains to be seen whether the senate will indeed reject this blatant attempt by the ruling party to silence critical voices and will send the law back to the lower house for review”. The organisation (Human Rights Watch) also mentions the significant role of the EU Commission, which “should stand ready to trigger legal mechanisms to block a law that would seriously erode media pluralism, and to hold Poland’s government to account for stifling core European values”. 

Nevertheless, the law seems to have small chances of actually being treated seriously by the Senat, with its speaker, Tomasz Grodzki, tweeting: “the senate will never approve an attack on independent media”. 

Time will show if the ruling PiS party will, once again, succeed in implementing a law, which would only hinder Poland’s already weak position in the European Union. 

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