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Discovery To Fight Bill That Would Ban Foreign Ownership of Media in Poland

TVN protest in Poland
Protestors in Gdansk, Poland, rally against the government's moves to nationalize the Discovery-owned TVN channel. (Image credit: Michal Fludra/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Discovery Inc. said it has formally notified Poland’s government that it will take legal action to block a draft bill that would bar foreign ownership of media in that country, claiming the legislation violates the bilateral investment treaty between the U.S. and the Republic of Poland and is directly tied to its control of independent news channel TVN, which has been critical of Polish President Andrzej Duda’s administration. 

The draft legislation is just the latest in what the programmer claims is a history of attempts by the government to squelch TVN. Discovery, which in May said it would combine with AT&T’s WarnerMedia unit in a deal valued at $43 billion, said it applied for renewal of TVN’s broadcast license 18 months ago but has still not received approval. That broadcast license is set to expire on Sept. 26, according to reports.

Wednesday (Aug. 11), the lower house of Poland's parliament voted to pass the bill by a slim margin (226-216, with 10 abstentions). The draft legislation still must go before the country’s Senate, where the opposition holds a slim majority in the upper house and could make changes, but the lower house could pass the bill as is, according to the Associated Press. Once it passes the Senate, the bill would go before Duda for his signature. 

Although the draft bill would prevent any non-European country from owning media in Poland and was being promoted as a national security measure, it is largely believed to be targeted at Discovery, which in TVN has the largest independent foreign investment in media in Poland. TVN has been highly critical of the conservative Polish government and has uncovered wrongdoing by officials. 

“The legislation is the latest assault on independent media and freedom of the press, and takes direct aim at Discovery’s TVN, the country’s leading independent broadcasting group and news provider, as well as one of the largest U.S. investments in Poland,” Discovery said in a press release. “Over a number of years, the current Polish government has targeted TVN in an arbitrary and discriminatory manner as part of a broader crackdown on independent media and in direct violation of legal protections around freedom of expression.” 

According to the AP, some government critics fear the law is another step toward the restrictive policies of its European neighbor, Hungary, where Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who gained a fan in Fox News pundit Tucker Carlson earlier this month, has cracked down on that country’s media outlets, as well as silencing opposition to his right-wing policies by Hungary’s universities and judiciary

Discovery acquired the TVN interest through its purchase of Scripps Interactive Networks in 2018. Scripps paid about $2 billion for TVN in 2015

“We are deeply committed to safeguarding our investment in Poland and its people, defending the public’s interest in independent media and the rights of freedom of expression,” Discovery International president and CEO JB Perrette said in a press release. “Discovery, as a protected investor in Poland, is afforded important rights and freedoms under the US-Polish Treaty. We do believe this legislation will have a chilling effect on U.S. and European investment into the Polish economy, and we will aggressively defend our rights.”

The U.S. government also has expressed its displeasure with the legislation. In a statement Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he was “deeply troubled” by the bill.

“Poland has worked for decades to foster a vibrant and free media,” Blinken continued. “This draft legislation would significantly weaken the media environment the Polish people have worked so long to build.”  

Mike Farrell

Mike Farrell is senior content producer, finance for Multichannel News/B+C, covering finance, operations and M&A at cable operators and networks across the industry. He joined Multichannel News in September 1998 and has written about major deals and top players in the business ever since. He also writes the On The Money blog, offering deeper dives into a wide variety of topics including, retransmission consent, regional sports networks,and streaming video. In 2015 he won the Jesse H. Neal Award for Best Profile, an in-depth look at the Syfy Network’s Sharknado franchise and its impact on the industry.