EU 'closely' monitoring media in Poland after TVN24 licence extended

The European Union has said it will continue to "closely" monitor the issue of media freedom in Poland.

Polish broadcasting regulators agreed on Wednesday to extend the license of the Discovery-owned TVN24 channel at the last moment.

The National Broadcasting Council had delayed the renewal of TVN′s license for almost two years over its American ownership.

But Warsaw has also adopted a resolution to pressure Discovery to sell its majority stake in the TV news channel.

The independent television channel is watched by millions of people daily in Poland and airs coverage that is critical of Poland’s government.

The Polish government has attempted to push through a controversial law banning non-European ownership of broadcasters.

In early September, the Polish Senate, controlled by a narrow opposition majority, rejected the proposed bill.

The leader of the ruling Law and Justice party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, has repeatedly said he wants Poland’s media to be controlled by Polish owners, to prevent Russian capital from entering the industry.

But the move has faced strong opposition from critics in the European Union, who see it as an effort to curb media freedom in Poland. US officials have asked Polish President Andrzej Duda to veto the law.

On Thursday, a spokesman for the European Commission said that the license extension was a "positive development" but that risks to media freedom in Poland remained.

"We will continue to monitor the developments very closely," Christian Wigand told a daily news briefing in Brussels.

"We expect member states to ensure that the policies and legislation do not have any negative impact on their commitments to ensure [a] free and diverse media ecosystem."

Věra Jourová, the EU Commission Vice-President for Values and Transparency, previously said on Twitter that the proposed law against foreign ownership sends a "negative message".

Before extending the TVN24 license on Wednesday, the council unanimously adopted a resolution stating that owners from outside Europe cannot hold more than a 49% stake in radio or TV stations.

The resolution is seen as an attempt to force Discovery to sell its majority stake without the need for legislation.

Discovery said the extension was "bittersweet" because it showed there has been no reason to delay or deny the renewal.

The company added in a statement that the new resolution "poses a direct threat to the rule of law and media freedom".

Discovery has simultaneously applied for a license in the Netherlands which could allow it to continue broadcasting in Poland.

Since it came to power in 2015, the Law and Justice party has turned state-owned station TVP into its mouthpiece. Poland has also dropped from 18th to 64th place on the World Media Freedom Index.