WARSAW – Fearing to jeopardize Poland’s relations with the United States, its closest ally and military protector, Polish President Andrzej Duda on Monday announced that he would veto a controversial media bill that could have led to the loss of an American television station. Licence.
The veto thwarted efforts for years by more radical elements of the ruling Nationalist Party in Poland to restrict foreign influence and reduce the country’s media space to media that share the party’s deeply conservative and at times xenophobic views. .
Last year, Mr. Duda won a second term with the backing of the ruling Law and Justice party. Its veto is likely to strain an already cranky and bitterly divided coalition government on the extent to which to push a conservative agenda rooted in allegiance to the Catholic Church and the belief that Polish sovereignty trumps commitments. towards the partners of the European Union and NATO, to which Poland joined in 1999.
Law and Justice Party leader Jarosław Kaczynski had insisted that the media law was not aimed at American investors but aimed at protecting Poland from Russian and Chinese interference and preventing drug traffickers from buying drugs. Polish media for “laundering dirty money”.
This cut little ice since the station most affected by the bill was TVN, which has numerous channels, including the popular news program TVN24, and which is majority owned by the American company Discovery Inc. through a subsidiary. registered in the Netherlands.
The station was more critical of the government than most media, especially the Polish public broadcaster, TVP, which became the spokesperson for the administration. Since Law and Justice came to power in 2015, Poland has fallen steadily in the ranking of media freedom, behind Malawi and Armenia in a annual list compiled by Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based group that monitors and campaigns for press freedom.
Citing economic and trade agreements with the United States, Duda said he would refuse to sign the bill because “if we have reached an agreement, we must abide by it” in order to ensure that Poland is seen as “An honorable nation. . He added: “I want Poland to be seen this way by its allies.”
With Poland already at loggerheads with the European Union over rule of law, LGBTQ rights and other issues, Duda said he wanted to avoid potentially disruptive clashes over media law .
“We don’t need any more disputes right now,” the president said in Warsaw, “We have a lot of problems. We have a pandemic, we have inflation,” he added.
The media bill was first passed by the lower house of the Polish parliament in October and, after being rejected by the opposition-controlled Senate, was revived this month thanks to an unexpected series pre-Christmas legislative maneuvers which infuriated the opposition and also drew criticism from Britain. and the United States, Poland’s strongest supporters in NATO.
There are approximately 4,500 U.S. military personnel on rotation in Poland, deployed there since 2017 as part of a NATO campaign to deter potential threats from a resurgent Russia following the annexation of the United States. Crimea by Moscow in 2014.
The United States Embassy in Warsaw, which had previously said it was “extremely disappointed” with the initial passage of the bill, the Monday hailed President Duda’s veto in a thank you message posted on Twitter. “Thank you, President Duda, for your leadership and your commitment to common democratic values and for the protection of the investment climate in Poland. Together, the allies are stronger!
Donald Tusk, the leader of Poland’s largest opposition party Civic Platform, also welcomed the veto, saying it showed street protests against the media law had worked. “The pressure makes sense,” he said.
Some supporters of the right-wing ruling coalition, however, expressed dismay and hurt at the president’s decision. “It hurts the hearts of the Poles. A lot ”, Janusz Kowalski, right-wing MP, wrote on Twitter.