The end of freedom of speech in Poland? The Lex TVN case

Controversial ‘Lex TVN’ / Media Bill (Twitter).

In August 2021, the party currently governing Poland, the Law and Justice Party (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, PiS), introduced an amendment to the Polish Broadcasting Act. The amendment keeps companies outside the European Economic Area (EEA) from owning more than 49% of the stakes in Polish radio and television stations. The law, now informally called ‘Lex TVN,’ is believed to be aimed directly at one of the biggest television stations in Poland – TVN, which Discovery, the American broadcasting company, owns.

TVN24 is the largest news station in Poland, which isinconvenient for the authorities. Its closure would mean the end of democracy. What if the government actually managed to “switch off” TVN24, the only television that would like to actively look at the current government’s hands, ask difficult questions and establish inconvenient facts?

The European Publishers Council has condemned the bill referred to in Poland as “Lex TVN.” The official statement indicated that the planned regulations threaten freedom of speech, media pluralism, and the predictability key to investors.

In its statement, EPC reminds that Poland has fallen in the ranking of freedom of work prepared by the Reporters bezGranic organization from 18th to 62nd place over the last five years.

The fate of one of the largest Polish television stations will be the main topic on the Vistula for a long time to come. 

But what is Lex TVN really about? The case is very complicated, and the issue of the license for TVN24 is also overlapping (both cases are often confused). So we explain step by step what happened – and what could happen.

Lex TVN and the license for TVN24

First, let’s clarify this point. Both cases are related, of course, but they are about something else. TVN24, a satellite news channel, needs a license to broadcast – it ends in Poland on September 26. However, the National Broadcasting Council (KRRiT), which issued the license, has not been able to decide whether to grant it to the station for many, many months. The station, however, can broadcast thanks to the Dutch license it has already received. So the case seems to be resolved.

However, there is also Lex TVN – this act does not apply to TVN24 but to the “big” TVN station. This one does not broadcast by satellite, but by terrestrial. And here, no license from the Netherlands will help. The law, which the Sejm (the lower house of parliament) has so far passed prohibits granting “ground” concessions to stations that companies from the European Economic Area do not control. TVN belongs to the American Discovery – that’s why it falls under the ban.

Voting in the upper house of parliament / PAP/Piotr Nowak.

So what is Lex TVN actually all about? 

Here, unfortunately, we enter the field of political speculation. It is no secret that the National Broadcasting Council, associated with the PiS community, did not want to grant TVN24 licenses. But, at the same time…, didn’t want to refuse to admit it either. Because such a move may have legal consequences for its members. So maybe Lex TVN was a political pad to take away the TVN license, and TVN24, on the way?

Why does the PiS want to get rid of TVN so much?

Of course, it is not about blocking the takeover of Polish media by Colombian cartels. The PiS leadership treats TVN (and especially TVN24) as an opposition force. When the polls dropped in the party, the idea to neutralise this force arose.

Since it came to power in 2015, the Law and Justice Party haspursued a consistent policy of increasing state control over Polish media.

In 2020, Polska Press — a media group that controlled 20 of the country’s 24 regional daily newspapers and several local television channels — fell victim to the ruling party’s campaign to “repolonize” the country’s private media. 

This was followed by massive layoffs among the editors of the media group’s regional newspapers. Predictably, PiSfunctionaries maintained that the firings were simply a “business decision.”

Protesters holding up posters in support of TVN. Warsaw, August 10, 2021. 
Janek Skarzynski / AFP / Scanpix / LETA.


In summary, PiS is unlikely to pass this bill through the Sejmand will not force Discovery to sell TVN24 to the proverbial Obajtkowo. However, it will do a lot of damage in the process. This will also be the case with the act against TVN. First, it will spoil the deteriorating relationship with the US administration. Second, discouraging private investors from entering the media market in Poland – it can be seen that today this activity is burdened with extraordinary political risk. Third, they will perpetuate the image of Poland in the world as a country striving for right-wing authoritarianism. Finally, it will discredit the ideas of sensible regulation of the media market for years – because the problem is real and regulations are needed.


Lex TVN’ and its consequences for the freedom of Polish Media

Lex TVN: o co właściwie chodzi PiS?

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