Discovery preps legal action against Polish government over TVN ownership

JB Perrette

US-based factual giant Discovery is to take legal action against the Polish government, following the passing of a controversial new media law that could see it forced to give up ownership of TVN.

Discovery said it had formally notified the country’s government that it is poised to act under the bilateral investment treaty between the US and Poland.

That will include arbitration proceedings in accordance with the treaty and include Discovery seeking “full compensation for Poland’s breaches.”

Background & context

The new law, which was approved by Polish MPs on Wednesday, has been heavily criticised as curbing media freedom. In particular, it prevents companies from outside the European Economic Area from holding a controlling stake in local media companies.

Critics have also argued that the law is an open attack on the independence of TVN24, the country’s most-watched news channel. The channel has been majority owned by Discovery since 2015 but its licence is due for renewal.

The network is often critical of the far-rights ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, and it has been argued that the new law opens a path for a state-controlled company to take ownership of TVN. This move would not be unprecedented, with regional newspaper group Polska Press recently being taken over by state-owned energy company PKN Orlen.

Discovery claimed Poland’s government had launched a “discriminatory campaign” against TVN, which has been unable to renew the broadcast license for its TVN24 news channel.

“Over a number of years, the current Polish government has targeted TVN in an arbitrary and discriminatory manner as part of a broader crackdown on independent media and in direct violation of legal protections around freedom of expression,” Discovery said.

JB Perrette, president & CEO of Discovery International, said: “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 US-Poland bilateral investment treaty. 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 US and European investment into the Polish economy, and we will aggressively defend our rights.”

For his part, Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki has previously said that the law does not target TVN in particular.

He told reporters: “We do not have any intentions regarding a specific TV channel, it is just about tightening the regulations, so that there is no situation in which companies from outside the European Union would buy media in Poland.”

Critics of the ruling will hope that the lost votes will lead to further instability in the controversial far-right government and a potential vote of no confidence ahead of the next elections scheduled for 2023. In the event that a new government is formed, rolling back this new law would be high up on the agenda.

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