Polish president vetoes media law

Jacek Turczyk/PAP

Polish President Andrzej Duda has vetoed a new media law that would curb the operation of US-owned television station TVN.

The president has sent the bill back to the Sejm (lower house) in order for it to be rewritten.

Commenting on his decision, Duda said he had considered sending the act to the Constitutional Tribunal, but finally decided to return it to the Sejm.

Duda recalled that the media law had evoked hefty debates, and admitted that he himself had "serious reservations" about it. He also recalled his August comment on the law, when he admonished that Poland had to keep its agreements and remain loyal to its alliances if it wanted the same from others.

"I spoke about our alliances, our commitments, and I said then that agreements had to be kept. If we have sealed an agreement, we have to stick to it. If we fail to keep our agreements, others will fail to keep theirs," Duda said.

He added that for Poles adherence to agreements was "a matter of honour" referring to the 1990 US-Poland treaty on business and economic relations.

Responding to the presidential veto, TVN Discovery Group executive Mikołaj Sowiński said it spelt "immense relief." Sowiński said the legal solutions proposed in the law were "irreconcilable with the rule of law."

Duda's decision was also welcomed by the chargé d'affaires at the US Embassy in Warsaw, Bix Aliu, who thanked the president for the veto, adding that the decision showed his "leadership, engagement for common democratic values and concern for the investment climate in Poland."

"Allies are stronger when they are together," Aliu said.

Poland's opposition leader Donald Tusk said Duda's veto was proof that pressure on the government brought results.

"Let no one ever say again that it's impossible, not worth it, or that we can't do anything anyway," Tusk said, commenting on some observers' earlier doubts about blocking the new media regulations.

Poland's governing party Law and Justice (PiS) spokeswoman Anita Czerwińska told PAP that the ruling camp was disappointed with Duda's veto.

"Of course, we respect the president's decision, his prerogatives, including the right to veto, but it does not change the fact that we are disappointed with this decision," she said.

Czerwińska added that the current media law requires clarification "so that entities from outside the European Economic Area do not circumvent the law, and in order to eliminate the loophole that allows for unequal treatment of Polish and foreign entities on the media market."

According to Joanna Lichocka, a PiS MP and a member of the National Media Council, the president did not take into account the regulator’s (National Broadcasting Council) arguments on the existing loophole in the law on granting licences in Poland.

She added that "the president has exercised his prerogatives... and I would not see it in terms of a betrayal (of the ruling camp - PAP), but rather a difference in approach to what is right for the Republic of Poland," Lichocka said.

Under the proposed new media law, operators from outside the European Economic Area would not be allowed to hold majority ownership in media in Poland. Critics of the bill, which could force TVN's US-based owner Discovery to give up control of the station, say it is a tool specifically aimed against the strongly government-critical broadcaster.