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The controversial bill was passed by Poland’s lower house of parliament on a vote of 228 to 216.
2 independent legislators joined by 3 MPs from the Kukiz’15 group led by a former anti-establishment rocker backed the ruling Law and Justice party with their votes. Members of the nationalist-libertarian Confederation and one Agreement party MP abstained.
The Wednesday parliamentary session was particularly heated and chaotic. Leading up to the vote, the right-wing government supported by members of Kukiz’15 and two independent parliamentarians Zbigniew Ajchler and Łukasz Mejza rejected amendments to the bill proposed by the opposition. Before that, after a nearly two-hour-long break and intensive lobbying of Kukiz’15 MPs, the ruling camp forcefully rescinded the opposition’s motion to postpone the debate until September.
With two Law and Justice MPs absent and four members of the Kukiz’15 group being initially in favor of postponing the session, the opposition managed to pass the motion. However, arguing that the result "raises justified doubts", the Speaker of the Sejm, Elżbieta Witek, decided to repeat the vote.
- We will file a motion to dismiss you as the Speaker of the Sejm- the head of the Left parliamentary club, Krzysztof Gawkowski, told Elżbieta Witek when the session resumed. - You are breaking the law. All decisions made after passing the motion to postpone the session are illegal- emphasized Borys Budka, the head of the Civic Coalition parliamentary club. – You need to respect the procedural rules. The majority decides- added Jakub Kulesza, the head of the Confederation parliamentary club.
A test of party loyalty
Speaker Witek prepared yesterday's parliamentary debate knowing that several opposition MPs had submitted vacation requests (some of which were withdrawn). The first vote she ordered- whether the parliament’s lower house should even proceed with the "anti-TVN" bill in the first place- was supposed to show the right-wing government where it stands.
At first, the balance of power was clearly in the ruling camp’s favor. 223 MPs voted to support PiS’ motion to proceed with the media bill, 208 were against it, and nine abstained. The contentious amendment to the media law was also supported by five MPs of Jarosław Gowin's Agreement party, who on Wednesday morning officially announced that his party is leaving the ruling right-wing coalition.
As many as 11 former members of the Law and Justice parliamentary club, including the former deputy PM Jarosław Gowin, abstained from voting.
Opposition manages to postpone the session
The so-called "anti-TVN bill" was then quickly referred to the Culture and Media Committee, and again sent back to the Sejm.
Opposition MPs Bartłomiej Sienkiewicz (Civic Coalition) and Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz (Polish People’s Party) filed a motion to adjourn the meeting until early September. And in a surprising twist of events, the opposition won the vote 229 to 227. The outcome was met with a standing ovation.
While only two independent legislators, Łukasz Mejza and Zbigniew Ajchler, sided with PiS, Kaczyński's party lost the votes of Jarosław Gowin, who has been fired by Prime Minister Morawiecki on Tuesday, and four other members of his Agreement party: Iwona Michałek, Magdalena Sroka, Stanisław Bukowiec and Michał Wypij.
- As of today, we have a minority government. The Law and Justice bulldozer has been stopped - said Adrian Zandberg from the Left party.
Unhappy with the result, the ruling camp repeats the vote
Ms Witek announced a 15-minute break, which was ultimately extended to nearly two hours. Law and Justice MP Marek Suski, the man behind the "anti-TVN bill", collected signatures under a motion to repeat the vote. Members of Kukiz'15 said they have made a mistake- allegedly, they did not want to vote in favor of postponing the debate.
- We voted in favor because we’ve made a mistake. Everybody makes mistakes, alright? Nobody died, we just made a mistake- explained Jarosław Sachajko.
Opposition politicians did not hide their outrage. – Kukiz’15 MPs who say they made a mistake think people are idiots. The motion for repeating the vote is a coup d'état - said Szymon Hołownia, leader of the Poland 2050 party.
When the Speaker of the Sejm returned to the hall, she said that she had consulted her decision with five legal experts, but then refused to say which ones. She also stated that she had misled members of the parliament when she said that the break would last until September 15.
Repeating the vote cleared the way for passing the "anti-TVN bill". The amended Broadcasting Act prohibits companies outside of the European Economic Area from controlling more than a 49% stake in Polish broadcasters. If passed, the new law would effectively force the American-owned Discovery Inc. into selling the majority of its stocks in TVN- Poland’s largest independent news network.
Yesterday, PiS introduced only one additional provision to the legislation - it extended the time for adjusting to the new law from three to seven months.
What is more, although the broadcasting license for TVN24 expires on September 26 and the station submitted all necessary paperwork already 17 months ago, Poland’s National Broadcasting Council has not yet decided whether it will extend the license.
TVN issues a damning statement
Shortly before the vote on amending the Broadcasting Act, Law and Justice MP Marek Suski claimed that the authors of the draft legislation forgot to include an important amendment and that his party will make sure to introduce it in the Senate.
The amendment is to exclude satellite broadcasters from the requirement of owning a maximum of 49% in Polish media. – Now do not say that we want to shut down TVN 24 - said Suski.
As experts have told us in recent days, the so-called "anti-TVN bill' is all about taking control of, or exerting pressure on the entire TVN group (including TVN 24) and intimidating the journalists. They also pointed out that without the possibility of terrestrial broadcasting for the main TVN channel, the group will not be able to make a profit.
At a recent meeting with the "Gazeta Polska" clubs, Mr Suski himself said that "if this law is passed and some part of these shares are perhaps also bought by Polish businessmen, we will have some influence over what happens in this television".
Late in the evening, the Management Board of TVN SA issued a damning statement:
"The amendment to the Broadcasting Act as adopted is an attack on core democratic principles of freedom of speech, the independence of the media and is directly discriminatory against TVN. We shall remain resolute in defense of TVN24 and other channels owned by TVN Discovery Group.
The outcome of the vote should also be deeply concerning to any enterprise investing in Poland. Through this vote, Poland directly uproots the foundation of the Polish-American relationship built in the last 30 years.
We appeal to the upper house of the Polish parliament – the Senate of the Republic of Poland – and the President of the Republic of Poland, Andrzej Duda, to oppose this project and prevent it from becoming law. Poland’s future as a democratic country in the international arena and its credibility in the eyes of investors depend on this".
US State Department responds
The US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, also responded to the news. In a press statement, he expressed his "deep concern" about the legislation passed on Wednesday, which in his opinion "undermines democratic values".
Blinken is the highest-ranking US official to openly criticize the "anti-TVN bill".
In a recent interview with TVN, former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that if passed, the bill "might have an adverse effect on American investments in Poland".
Other US officials from both sides of the aisle have also warned the Polish government against passing the contested legislation. Last Friday, six members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, including its chairman Gregory W. Meeks from the Democratic Party and the ranking Republican member Michael McCaul, signed a joint statement voicing their concern about "the ongoing attacks on the free press, independent judiciary and the rule of law in Poland".
Last Wednesday, a bipartisan group of US senators directly warned the Law and Justice government against taking actions that "could have negative implications for defense, business and trade relations" between the US and Poland.
What’s next for the „anti-TVN" bill?
The bill will now go to the Senate, which has 30 days to consider it. A member of the oppositional Civic Coalition told us that as of today, the recommendation is to reject the bill altogether. It is worth pointing out that the opposition has a slim majority in the Senate.
If senators do indeed reject the "anti-TVN bill" or amend the law, PiS will need an absolute majority in the lower house to reject the resolution. In practice, it would need 231 votes.
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