Poland’s president, Andrzej Duda, vetoed a controversial law passed by Parliament on Monday. The law would have banned non-European companies from owning more than a 49% stake in any Polish media organization. The law would have pushed the US-based media company Discovery out of its controlling stake in news network TVN.
TVN’s reporting is openly critical of the Polish government. The Law and Justice Party tried to oust Discovery from the network earlier in 2021. The Senate overturned the motion, but the majority party persisted. Last week, the lower house of Parliament overcame the Senate’s veto with a supermajority vote and left Duda as the only politician with any say in the bill’s future.
The Law and Justice Party contends that foreign countries have too much power over Polish media companies.
The proposed law sparked nationwide protests in Poland. Free speech advocates swarmed Duda’s presidential residence in Warsaw last week, waving signs and chanting. Donald Tusk, the leader of the opposition party, called on protestors to “sweep away” the legislation.
The bill resulted in sudden backlash from the United States. US diplomat Bix Aliu publicly characterized the legislation as “extremely disappointing” and called on President Duda to veto the bill. Aliu implored Duda “to use his leadership to protect free speech and business.”
Ned Price, a spokesman for the State Department, told Warsaw that the move would “erode foreign investors’ confidence in their property rights and the sanctity of contracts in Poland.”
Duda acquiesced to the pressure from citizens and foreign allies, vetoing the bill on Monday. He noted that the proposed legislation was unpopular with the public. Duda explained it would also distract from the other challenges facing the country.
The president pointed out that international businesses should see Poland as a good business partner. Poland’s reputation might suffer if the government kicked out a foreign company already operating legally. He also added that the law wouldn’t annul existing business arrangements.
“The bill and its amendments concern entities which are already present in the market,” President Duda stated. “There is also the issue of media pluralism, of freedom of speech. When taking my decision, I took this element into serious consideration.”
Aliu responded positively to the news, tweeting a message of thanks to Duda. The chargé d’affaires applauded the president for “his leadership and commitment to common democratic values and for protecting the investment climate in Poland.”