Sejm votes down Senate's rejection of amendment to media law
The Sejm, the lower house of the Polish parliament, has voted down the Senate's (upper house) rejection of an amendment to a planned radio and TV broadcasting law.
Passed by the Sejm on August 11, the amendment was rejected by the Senate on September 9 in a 53-37 vote with three abstentions. On Friday, the Sejm overturned the Senate's decision in a 229-212 vote with 11 abstentions.
In favour of rejecting the Senate vote were MPs from ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party and allied opposition group Kukiz'15, against was the remaining opposition with the exception of Confederation, which abstained.
The legislation changes Poland's media law to limit ownership of Polish media companies to entities based in the European Economic Area. Critics have suggested the bill is an attempt to silence government-critical US-owned broadcaster TVN.
Bix Aliu, the US Charge d'Affaires in Poland, said on Friday that Washington was deeply disappointed by the passage of the media law. Aliu also voiced hope for steps in the matter by the Polish president.
"The United States is extremely disappointed by today's passage of the media bill by the Sejm. We expect President (Andrzej) Duda to act in accordance with previous statements to use his leadership to protect free speech and business," Aliu wrote.
In response to Aliu's words, a Polish deputy foreign minister Pawel Jablonski said that diplomats should not interfere in the internal affairs of the countries in which they are posted.
EC Vice-President Vera Jourova wrote on Twitter that the media law "targeted the TVN Group," and would further escalate tension in the Polish media sector.
"Once this bill becomes a law, the Commission will not hesitate to take action in case of non-compliance with EU law… This new law sends yet another negative signal about the respect of rule of law and democratic values," Jourova wrote.
In a statement, TVN owner Discovery Inc. called the passage of the media law a "surprise" and an alarm bell for both investors and supporters of press freedom.
Discovery Inc. also said that the new media law ran against European values and undermined Poland's ties with the US, and appealed to the Polish president to veto the legislation.
"The outcome of today’s surprise vote in the Polish Parliament should alarm any enterprise investing in Poland and anyone who cares about democracy and freedom of the press. Through this vote, Poland undermines the values that have connected Poland with Europe, and uproots the foundation of the Polish-American relationship. We now appeal to the President of the Republic of Poland, Andrzej Duda, to keep his word and veto this legislation," Discovery Inc. wrote.
Hopes for the president's reaction in the matter were also voiced by Senate Speaker Tomasz Grodzki, who told the TVN news channel that he "counted on President Duda realising that media pluralism is a crucial condition for the welfare of Poland."
Earlier on Friday, the Sejm was advised to vote against the Senate's decision by the house's Culture and Media Committee, despite a left-wing MP's motion to annul its sitting because it was called without a prior three-day notice foreseen by the house statute.
MPs from the Civic Coalition (KO), the largest opposition group in the Sejm, said KO was planning abuse-of-power charges against the committee's head, Piotr Babinetz (PiS), who in their opinion had called the Friday sitting against the regulations.
They added that KO also counted on a presidential veto of the new media law.