The majority of Polish deputies voted on Wednesday 11 August in favor of a bill that the opposition denounces as a maneuver to silence a television channel, owned by an American group, which does not adopt a line pro-government. The text was adopted by 228 votes for and 216 against. Ten deputies abstained. The text must now be voted on by the Senate.
If enacted, this new law portends a feud between Warsaw and one of its main allies, Washington, which has warned that future American investments in Poland would be jeopardized if the news channel’s broadcasting license TVN24, owned by the American group Discovery, was not renewed. In particular, the law could force Discovery to sell most of its stake in the private Polish television network TVN.
The Polish opposition sees this text as an attack on press freedom, while the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) is working to tighten control of the media and the judiciary. It provides for additional restrictions to prevent interests outside the European Economic Zone from controlling Polish audiovisual groups.
Parliament’s decision constitutes “An unprecedented attack on freedom of expression and the independence of the media”, said Wednesday evening, the management of TVN in a statement. “The result of today’s vote undermines property rights, which worries foreign investors in Poland. It also undoubtedly undermines the foundations of the Polish-American alliance built over the past thirty years ”, said again the direction of the television which also called on the Senate and the president to reject the law.
The vote took place during a stormy session of Parliament which took place the day after the breakup of the ruling coalition. It was prompted by the resignation, ordered by the Prime Minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, of his deputy, Jaroslaw Gowin, leader of one of the three parties in the coalition which had ten votes in Parliament.
“Crooks, crooks! “
On Wednesday, the ruling right lost a total of four votes, an unprecedented result since coming to power in 2015. Initially, the opposition managed to adjourn the session of parliament until September 2. However, the President of the Diet Elzbieta Witek decided to repeat this vote, amid cries of protest from the opposition.
The vote was ultimately won by the ruling conservatives, supported by a few deputies from an anti-system Kukiz 15 group, who, in the first vote, had supported the adjournment.
The results were greeted with screams “Crooks, crooks! “, launched by the opposition. Opposition MPs, who questioned its legality, abstained from this vote. The right continued the debates leading to the passage of the law on the media.
This is an important law for the PiS and its chairman, Jaroslaw Kacubzynski, which already controls public television TVP, which has become a government propaganda medium, and much of the regional press.
The United Right coalition, led by PiS, is regularly accused by the European Union (EU) of reducing democratic freedoms in the country. On Tuesday evening, thousands of people across Poland demonstrated against the media law.
The collapse of the coalition does not mean that the government automatically falls, because it would require a formal vote of no confidence in Parliament. The government could continue as a minority.
According to observers, the result of Wednesday’s votes shows that PiS has a very uncertain majority and that it will have to negotiate with MPs from other parties and, in particular from the extreme right, before each vote. “The parliamentary majority, stuck by the mud of corruption and blackmail, collapses before our eyes”, wrote on Twitter former European Council chief Donald Tusk, who heads the main opposition Civic Platform (PO) party. “It may last a while longer, but it is no longer able to govern”, did he declare.