In a shocking turn of events, Discovery is facing a potential sale of its business in Poland following the parliamentary greenlight for a controversial new media bill.
Known as Lex TVN, the bill looks to prevent non-European ownership of Polish media companies. It was first proposed in July by Poland’s ruling conservative Law and Justice party (PiS), which said that TV and radio license holders shouldn’t be directly or indirectly controlled by entities that aren’t in the European Economic Area.
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The new media law puts a target squarely on Discovery, the U.S. owners of Poland’s TVN Group, which operates the country’s most prominent news channel, TVN24. Valued at around $2 billion, TVN represents America’s largest investment in Poland.
The bill was making its way around the houses of parliament over the summer. Although the Senate moved to reject the bill in September, it was voted through by the Sejm (lower house of parliament) on Friday, meaning it has just one rung left — presidential approval — before it becomes law.
A spokesperson for Discovery told Variety: “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.
“Through this vote, Poland risks directly undermining the values that have connected Poland with Europe, and uprooting the foundation of the Polish-American relationship. We now appeal to the President of the Republic of Poland, Andrzej Duda, to oppose this project and prevent it from becoming law.”
Sources indicate that Friday’s vote has come as a massive shock to Discovery.
The company made clear in August that it’s ready to fight to keep its business in Poland, vowing to take legal action to block the bill under the terms of the longstanding bilateral trade treaty between the U.S. and Poland.
Discovery — which is set to merge with WarnerMedia in a mega-deal expected to close mid-2022 — has so far operated in the country by registering as a standalone business within the European Union, thereby fulfilling the requirements that prevent non-European firms from owning over 49% in domestic media outlets. The new law, however, would crack down on any foreign ownership of Polish media and force Discovery to sell 51% of its stake in TVN.
President Duda previously said he needs to review the bill before deciding whether to veto or not. Variety understands that he has 21 days to take a decision.
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