- The government’s attempt to gain greater influence over private media will further erode democratic institutions, hurt the country’s business environment and relations with key international allies.
- The broadcasting bill will test whether the PiS-led government can muster an absolute majority of votes in parliament following the departure of a junior coalition partner.
- A mixture of international and domestic pressure as well as potential challenges in ensuring parliament’s backing for the contentious bill could still force PiS to back down.
Yesterday, 11 August, the lower house of parliament (Sejm) adopted in the first reading amendments to the Broadcasting Act that would restrict the granting of radio and television broadcasting licenses to media groups majority-owned by entities based within the European Economic Area. The bill – dubbed as “Lex TVN” – is widely seen as targeting US-owned TVN Group, a broadcaster of several popular TV channels viewed as critical of the Law and Justice (PiS) government. The adoption of the bill has triggered widespread protests across Poland and drew harsh criticism from Washington.
The bill now goes to the upper house of parliament (Senate), which is expected to consider the legislation on 9-10 September. The Senate can adopt the legislation in its current version, amend it or reject it altogether. The latter option appears most likely. In such a scenario, the Sejm could override the Senate’s decision by an absolute majority (231 out of 460) of votes. If adopted, the amendments would come into force 30 days after the bill’s publication in the journal of laws.
While the government’s brazen attempts to gain greater control over public and private media are not new nor surprising, such moves comes at the expense of the country’s democratic institutions, the reputation of its business environment as well as relations with key international partners. The bill has already strained Poland’s relations with the US at a time when Belarusian and Russian activities along Poland’s eastern border are becoming increasingly unpredictable. The Lex TVN also reaffirms long-standing concerns in the EU about the deteriorating rule of law and democracy in Poland; recall that Brussels is already holding up post-pandemic recovery funds for the country.
In the domestic political arena, the further consideration of Lex TVN will test the PiS-led government’s strength in parliament following the long- anticipated departure of junior partner Agreement from the governing coalition earlier this week. The first vote on the Broadcasting Act – which was supported by 228 deputies – suggests that the government is rather close to reaching an absolute majority (231 votes), particularly as three PiS deputies did not participate in the vote. It is also noteworthy that the controversial bill was supported by five deputies from the Agreement party – which indicates a split within its ranks – as well as three members of the Kukiz’15 party. Such cooperation with individual lawmakers and smaller parties on specific issues will become increasingly important for the weakened Mateusz Morawiecki’s government going forward.
Still, a mixture of international and domestic pressure could force the PiS to back down. Rumors about Washington’s possible plan to reduce its military presence in Poland if Lex TVN is adopted are causing concerns in Warsaw. Also, a recent survey showed that 70% of Poles do not want TVN to be closed down and 64% believe that PiS is deliberately attempting to shut it down. Also, PiS’s recent decision to compromise in the rule of law battle with the EU – following a threat of potential financial penalties over the continued operation of the Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court – shows that the government is not immune to external pressure. The compromise scenario would become more likely if PiS struggles to muster a firm majority to override the likely Senate’s veto.