After a long day of debates, the lower house of the Polish parliament has voted in favor of a bill that proposes to prevent non-European ownership of Polish media companies.
Discovery Inc., which has the largest investment of any U.S. company in Poland through its ownership of TVN Group, has vowed to take legal action to block the move under the terms of the longstanding bilateral trade treaty between the U.S. and Poland.
The bill was passed on Wednesday with 228 votes in favor, 216 against and 10 abstentions. It must now be passed in the upper house of parliament to become law.
If it becomes law, Discovery would be forced to sell its stake in the company which is valued at $3 billion. The group, particularly news channel TVN24, is widely regarded as the leading source of independent broadcast news for many Poles. JB Perrette, president and CEO of Discovery International, has been vocal about the threat that the move presents for business in general and media in particular.
“Discovery has successfully operated and invested in Poland for nearly 25 years, making us now one of the biggest international investors and employers in this incredible country. The current Polish government’s damaging and discriminatory actions, however, leave us no choice but to bring charges under the U.S.-Poland bilateral investment treaty,” Perrette said. “We are deeply committed to safeguarding our investment in Poland and its people, defending the public’s interest in independent media and the rights of freedom of expression. Discovery, as a protected investor in Poland, is afforded important rights and freedoms under the US-Polish Treaty. We do believe this legislation will have a chilling effect on U.S. and European investment into the Polish economy, and we will aggressively defend our rights.”
Previously, Discovery appealed to the upper house and to President Andrzej Duda to block the legislation from moving forward.
“Poland’s future as a democratic country in the international arena and its credibility in the eyes of investors depend on this. We remain hopeful that the Sejm of the Republic of Poland will reconsider its vote, should it have the opportunity,” Perrette said.
Through the day’s debates, the Polish opposition vociferously said that the main aim of the bill was solely to reduce TVN’s influence by the right-wing ruling coalition.
TVN represents the largest U.S. investment in Poland. If passed, the bill may be expected to strain business and political relationships between the U.S. and Poland, as several opposition lawmakers pointed out during the debate.
Discovery – which is set to merge with WarnerMedia in a mega-deal expected to close mid-2022 – applied to renew its current ten-year media license for TVN 18 months ago. But it is still waiting on Poland’s National Broadcasting Council (KRRiT) for approval. The license is set to expire on Sept. 26, 2021.