During a surprise public appearance on Monday at noon, President of Poland Andrzej Duda announced his decision to veto the new media bill that would force the U.S.-based media conglomerate Discovery, Inc. to sell its majority stake in TVN, one of two largest Polish private TV broadcasters and owner of TVN24, Poland's most popular TV news channel.
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The timing of his decision took politicians and pundits by surprise. Based on his constitutional prerogatives, President Duda had more than three weeks left to make his decision, and many expected a prolonged tug-of-war between the Polish ruling camp and the Biden administration aimed at swaying the Polish head of state.

"One of the arguments I considered was the international agreement of March 21, 1990: the Polish-American Treaty on Business and Economic Relations", President Andrzej Duda said during a press conference held at noon on Monday.

The media bill, which would force the U.S.-based TVN owner Discovery, Inc. to sell its majority stake in the Polish broadcaster, reached President Duda's desk last Monday. The media widely suggested that Duda would either veto the bill, as he announced back in August, or refer it to the Constitutional Tribunal of Julia Przyłębska. Many pundits saw the latter as much more probable, arguing that the Law and Justice party would not push the bill through parliament if it did not sway Duda’s opinion first. 

- If we have made an agreement, we must keep it. If we keep our agreements, we can say that we are an honorable nation. I want Poland to be perceived this way by its allies - the President announced on Monday during a surprise public appearance.

Andrzej Duda: "We are already facing enough problems"

- As president of Poland, I have to be above disputes and judge them with the use of common sense. My task is to act in such a way as to avoid unnecessarily divisive quarrels," Andrzej Duda remarked.

Why didn't the President refer the bill to the Constitutional Tribunal? In his words, the Tribunal could look at the amendment of the media law from the narrow perspective of its compliance with the Constitution.

"The Treaty is of course linked to the Constitution, but this link is only indirect, through Article 9 [the Republic of Poland respects international law binding upon it - ed.] and other provisions of the constitution. Therefore, as President, I cannot say for 100% that the Tribunal would address the issue of compliance with the Polish-American treaty as such, and this issue from my point of view is extremely important," - he explained.

Duda reminded that in many democratic countries there are legal restrictions concerning media ownership. In his opinion, they should also be introduced in Poland, but it is important that they only apply to those who will want to invest in Poland in the future.

According to the Polish President, entering into a dispute with Discovery, a U.S. media giant, would be very costly for Poland. - Poland would find itself in a dispute that could cost billions of dollars, and we are already facing enough problems as it is: coronavirus, inflation, the burden of high prices. I share the opinion of the majority of Polish citizens who believe that the last thing we need is another heated issue," Duda said.

Kaczyński pays for bad relations with Duda

Jarosław Kaczyński, the leader of PiS, wanted Duda to sign the "lex TVN" or send the bill to Julia Przyłębska in the Constitutional Tribunal. In the latter case, he could decide himself what the verdict would be.

- Kaczyński also wanted to be able to continue playing with the issue and mobilize the electorate. It is not without reason that during his speech on Monday the President explained in a rather exhaustive manner why sending this law to the Constitutional Tribunal makes no sense. It was a message for Kaczyński - explains one of the Law and Justice parliamentarians to 'Wyborcza'.

"Lex TVN" stipulated that companies outside the European Economic Area (EU plus Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland) could control at most 49 percent of shares in Polish media. The amendment to the media law would impact only the TVN group, which is completely owned by Discovery, Inc.

Now - according to our interlocutors from the government camp - the president's decision to veto means that he wants to show his independence from PiS in his second term, because his fate is no longer in Kaczynski's hands. The two rarely talk and are not on particularly good terms.

A few days before the veto I asked one of the Law and Justice politicians whether the president is not leaning towards giving Kaczyński what he wants in order to maintain good relations with the ruling camp, he answered: - What good relations? What for? After all, this is his last term. He can do whatever he wants.

PiS with a new narrative: Kaczyński has everything under control

As a result, PiS did not know until the very end what would be the President’s decision after his media appearance was hastily announced Monday morning. The ruling camp was preparing media spins for all possible scenarios. But after the veto, according to our interlocutors, the ruling party settled for a narrative according to which "Kaczynski is in control of the situation".

- Kaczyński simply decided to strengthen the mandate of Andrzej Duda as an independent supra-party head of state. Poland is governed by the rule of law and everything happens according to the constitution. Now nobody in their right mind can talk about supposed authoritarian practices. That was Kaczyński’s goal - he planned it and predicted it - this was the version prepared by the ruling camp’s spin doctors that I heard from two of my interlocutors from PiS on Monday.

The goal is clear enough - to strengthen PiS voters in their belief in Kaczyński's genius and omnipotence. That is why the pro-government and government media on Monday commented very sparingly on the veto to the 'lex TVN'.

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