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As reported by the news portal Onet, orders to void the broadcasting license of Poland’s largest independent news channel by means of regulatory measures came directly from the ruling party’s headquarters soon after Donald Trump moved out of the White House and Georgette Mosbacher (who ardently defended independent media) left the US embassy in Warsaw. It was supposed to send the network’s American owner a clear message: Discovery Inc. either willingly sells a package of over a dozen channels belonging to the TVN Group, or the Polish government will do what it takes to coerce the media giant into doing so.
The recently announced draft bill amending Poland’s media licensing laws (commonly referred to as "Lex TVN") is certainly one of the tools with which the ruling camp intends to achieve its goal. On July 7, a group of Law and Justice MPs led by Marek Suski submitted the draft legislation which, if passed, would force the American media company into selling the majority of its stocks in the TVN Group. Initially, the bill was supposed to be passed by the Parliament during its current session (ending on Friday, July 23), but it has been rescheduled for the next one starting August 11. According to unofficial reports, the ruling party is struggling to whip up enough votes to pass the bill.
At first, there were generous purchase offers
Onet reports that the more aggressive approach towards TVN is due to the fact that the ruling party has for years been unsuccessful in trying to persuade the station's owner to sell a majority stake in the network.
Until 2015, TVN Group belonged to ITI and Canal+, which sold their entire stock to Scripps Networks Interactive, an American media company. Two years later, Scripps was acquired by another US company, Discovery Communications, which still owns 100% shares in the company. As it turns out, the Polish government approached the American owner even before the 2017 deal between Scripps and Discovery, unofficially making generous offers to purchase the TVN Group.
Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki himself was supposedly involved in these efforts. His immediate associates were to travel to the United States multiple times, making offers to buy back the station through a consortium of state-run companies for an amount well above the network’s market value. The acquisition of Scripps Networks Interactive by Discovery was to put an end to these efforts. Even then, however, the Polish government did not stop sending messages that it was still interested in closing the deal.
TVN has been on the ruling party’s radar since 2015
Back in 2017, "Newsweek Polska" reported that PiS was probing the idea of buying TVN 24 already in 2015. The first meetings on the matter may have taken place in July, shortly after Andrzej Duda’s successful presidential campaign. Ken Lowe, the CEO of Scripps Networks Interactive, whose station was competing to get a place on the Polish multiplex market, was supposed to come to Warsaw at that time. Mr Lowe was trying to meet with representatives of all the major political parties. Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz refused to meet him, but Jarosław Kaczynski has welcomed the offer. During the second meeting, he allegedly heard that TVN is not for sale. The fact that such meetings took place was confirmed by representatives of Scripps in 2017. This means that July 2021 marks exactly six years since the Polish government began its behind-the-scenes efforts to take over TVN.
PiS attempted to acquire the station through corrupted intermediaries
The idea of using government subsidiaries to buy up Poland’s largest independent news network had also surfaced in the findings of an investigation conducted by "Gazeta Wyborcza".
Adam Hofman, the former Law and Justice party spokesman and later a lobbyist for the R4S agency, made a series of corrupt proposals to Leszek Czarnecki in Monaco in 2020 in exchange for easing the pressure on the businessman's troubled banks.
Mr Czarnecki's defense attorney, Roman Giertych, claimed in his public defense speech that one of the offers concerned plans to purchase TVN 24 ahead of the upcoming presidential election. The idea was allegedly consulted personally with Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki himself. The Law and Justice party saw Mr Czarnecki as a person whom the owners would trust if they were to sell their shares in TVN. Once the network switched hands, the plan was to provide advertising contracts from state-owned companies and then buy the station for an amount well above its market value after some time.
Leszek Czarnecki refused the offer. On December 31, 2020, the Bank Guarantee Fund took over Idea Bank, previously owned by Mr Czarnecki, and a few days later it was acquired by Pekao Bank, controlled by associates of the ruling Law and Justice party.
Every day, 400 journalists at Gazeta Wyborcza write verified, fact-checked stories about Polish politics and society, keeping a critical eye on the ruling camp’s persistent assault on democratic values and the rule of law; the growing cultural tension between religious fundamentalism and human rights; and the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic. Our journalists are on the front lines in 25 Polish cities, reporting from the streets, hospitals, and courtrooms about issues that move public opinion.
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