Poles rally for US-owned TV network, media freedom

Associated Press

Warsaw, Poland – Poles flocked to city centers across the country Sunday to defend a U.S.-owned television network that is being targeted by the country’s right-wing government and to protect media freedoms in a European Union nation where democratic norms are eroding.

Among the protesters were older Poles who decades ago resisted the country’s communist regime. They fear that the democracy that they helped usher in is now being lost to them. They believe Poland’s populist right-wing government is turning the country away from the West and adopting an authoritarian model closer to that of Turkey or Russia with attempts to exert political control over the courts and silence critical media.

TVN24, part of the TVN network in Poland, is owned by U.S. company Discovery Inc.

The protests, led by opposition groups, were called after the parliament on Friday unexpectedly passed a bill that would force Discovery Inc. to sell its controlling share of TVN, Poland’s largest television network.

TVN operates an all-news channel TVN24 and its main channel, TVN, has a nightly evening news program viewed by millions that offers critical reporting of the government.

The fate of the bill now lies with President Andrzej Duda. The main protest on Sunday took place in front of the presidential palace in Warsaw, with demonstrators demanding that the president veto the bill.

Government leaders have defended the legislation by arguing that it is important for national security to ensure that no company outside of Europe can control companies that help form public opinion.

But a string of speakers on Sunday accused them of carrying out an attack on the country’s democratic foundations.

Jarosław Kurski, deputy editor of the Gazeta Wyborcza, a liberal newspaper that is critical of the government, accused the ruling party of seeking to silence free media in order to steal the next elections in Poland, which are scheduled in 2023.

“The mafia has taken over the country. They want to master all elements of public life,” Kurski said.

The United States, a close ally of Warsaw, even urged the government not to pass the law, viewing it as a hostile act towards a U.S. company.