Foreign media companies are not welcome in every corner of the world. Take France, for instance, which is notorious for limiting foreign ownership in the media. Now Poland is about to introduce a similarly restrictive regulation designed to alter its media landscape.
The legislation primarily targets Scripps, an American media group that owns local television channel TVN, which is known for bipartisan news coverage. However, nowadays objective reporting can often be synonymous with criticism in Poland where the current government has made a solid reputation of preferring a rather un-liberal version of democracy.
“Control over TVN is crucial since it has a massive viewership and its news channel, TVN24, has a program that stands out as the most independent of the current government,” said Maciej Kisilowski, associate professor of Law and Public Management at Central European University, in Budapest, Hungary.
It is speculated that the president of the conservative ruling PiS party (the party that controls both Parliament and government), Jaroslaw Kaczynski (pictured above), approached Scripps with an offer to purchase TVN24, its news channel, which could easily be financed by one of numerous state-owned enterprises that the government controls. Reportedly, those talks stalled at a relatively early stage and Scripps denied it received such an offer. The proposed media law could therefore be viewed as a logical next step in the government’s strategy.
Whether the government succeeds in its efforts to take over TVN24 will depend, however, on the reaction of the Trump administration, which might perceive any hostile move as an attack against American business interests, Kisilowski explained.
Equally likely, however, the White House could view TVN24 as the Polish representation of the “liberal media,” which Trump famously detests.
The other stakeholder interested in the issue will surely be the European Commission. Here, the government can use the example of France and other countries, making a valid argument that Poland needs to develop a high-end Polish creative industry, including media companies, to successfully execute the strategy of escaping the middle-income trap.
Yet, according to Kisilowski, the Kaczynski-led government has undermined its argument here by orchestrating a remarkably aggressive takeover of the state-owned TVP broadcaster in early 2016. “The way TVP has been run under the rule of Kaczynski’s party shows that, in Polish realities, state ownership brings rapid deterioration of the standards of journalistic independence.” Kisilowski doubts that the European Commission will be satisfied with a legal-oriented argument about the potential parallels of the text of Polish and French laws.
The Polish political landscape is evenly divided between the governing right wing forces and the left opposition. In a country of 40 million people, this means a large potential TV market, so there is a lot at stake from a business perspective. As such, Scripps is expected to fight back. (By Ethan J. Baxter in Budapest)