Poland Belittles Media-Law Impact as U.S. Warns on Investment

Poland played down the impact of a draft law ousting U.S.-based Discovery Inc. as a senior Washington official warned that a perceived erosion in media freedom could hit investment sentiment toward the nation.

The ruling party wants to pass legislation that will force Discovery to sell control of its Polish unit TVN, the largest privately owned television group in the country. The media regulator has also for more than a year not extended the broadcasting license for TVN24, the group’s news channel whose award-winning investigative reports have unveiled corruption at various government levels.

The draft law proposes to ban companies from outside the European Union, as well as the associated economic areas of Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, from directly or indirectly controlling television and radio stations. That would only impact Discovery, one of the biggest U.S. investors in Poland.

“This law only imposes the obligation to find a capital partner in the European Economic Area, and does not infringe anyone’s freedom of expression,” Marek Suski, a ruling party lawmaker and promoter of the TVN bill, told public radio on Friday. “I think that great American lawyers will find a way to do this.”

The legislation -- which the ruling party wants to approve in parliament next month -- has already prompted concern from the U.S. and the EU.

U.S. companies have invested more than $62 billion in Poland, second only to Germany, and provide employment for 267,000 people, according to the American Chamber of Commerce.

”This is a very significant American investment here in Poland,” Derek Chollet, a counselor at the State Department, told TVN24 in an interview during his visit to Warsaw on Thursday.

Failure to extend the Discovery unit’s broadcasting permit “will have implications for future U.S. investments. But it’s also a question of values” as “media freedom is absolutely crucial -- a free press is important to empowering society,” he said.

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