Poland’s parliament passed a media bill that critics say aims to silence a news channel critical of the government on Friday, in an unexpected move that will stoke concern over media freedom and potentially reopen a diplomatic dispute with the United States.
Lawmakers had not been scheduled to vote on the bill, but after a committee convened at short notice to discuss the issue it ended up on the agenda and was voted through in a matter of minutes. The bill now goes to President Andrzej Duda for his signature.
Opposition lawmakers said the manner in which the vote took place was illegal and breached democratic standards.
Opponents of the legislation say it will affect the ability of news channel TVN24, owned by U.S. media company Discovery Inc, to operate because it changes rules around foreign ownership.
The legislation sparked a diplomatic dispute between Poland and the United States earlier this year and was criticised by Washington and the European Union as an attempt to limit media freedom.
Poland’s ruling nationalists, Law and Justice (PiS), say the bill aims to stop countries like Russia or China gaining influence over Polish media.
TVN24’s parent, TVN, is owned by Discovery Inc via a firm registered in the Netherlands in order to get around a ban on non-European firms owning more than 49% of Polish media companies. The bill passed by parliament on Friday would prevent this workaround.
“The outcome of today’s surprise vote in the Polish Parliament should be deeply concerning to any enterprise investing in Poland and to anyone who cares about democracy and freedom of the press,” Discovery said in an email.
The company added it was appealing to Duda to oppose the legislation and prevent it from becoming law.
PiS lawmaker Joanna Lichocka said in a statement, “The rule limiting non-European capital in the media is in line with European law and is valid in many EU countries. This rule has been in force in Poland for years – the amendment seals it up and makes it impossible to circumvent it.”