Discovery Upbeat as Key Vote by Poland’s Senate Rejects Media Law Shake-Up

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Poland’s upper house of parliament has rejected radical amendments to the country’s media law that look to prevent non-European ownership of Polish media companies — a promising development for the likes of Discovery and its Polish business, TVN Group.

In a vote on Thursday, the Senate moved to reject the bill, which is called “Lex TVN,” with 53 votes against Lex TVN, 37 against and three abstaining. The vote comes less than a month after the lower house of parliament, known as the Sejm, voted in favor of the controversial bill, with 228 votes in favor, 216 against and 10 abstentions.

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Poland’s ruling conservative Law and Justice party (PiS) first sought amendments to the local Broadcasting Act in July, specifying that TV and radio license holders can’t be directly or indirectly controlled by entities that aren’t in the European Economic Area. 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 will now return to the Sejm (lower house of parliament) for further discussions.

Kasia Kieli, president and managing director for Discovery in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA), said of Thursday’s Senate vote: “The Senate has clearly signaled that the bill is an attack on core democratic principles of freedom of speech and the independence of the media. We are, however, still concerned about the future of TVN and independent media in Poland as the bill can still be passed by the Sejm and the license for our news channel TVN24 is still not renewed.”

Discovery has made clear that it’s ready to fight to keep its business in Poland. The company in August vowed to take legal action to block the bill under the terms of the longstanding bilateral trade treaty between the U.S. and Poland.

Speaking to Variety last month, JB Perrette, president and CEO of Discovery Networks International, underlined that the proposed changes not only undercut Discovery’s business interests in Poland, but “fundamentally goes to destabilize the country for all businesses. One of the core principles of investment is a sense of the rule of law and what that means for the security and certainty of your business investment.”

Discovery — which is set to merge with WarnerMedia in a mega-deal expected to close mid-2022 — applied to renew its current 10-year media license for TVN 18 months ago, but it’s still waiting on the National Broadcasting Council (KRRiT) for approval. The license is set to expire on Sept. 26.

Discovery has so far operated in Poland 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. Newly proposed rules, however, would crack down on any foreign ownership of Polish media.

Such a scenario would likely see Discovery forced to sell 51% of its stake in TVN.

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