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Lawmakers attend a session of the parliamentary commission on an amendment to the Broadcasting Act that would strengthen a ban on non-European firms controlling Polish broadcasters, in Warsaw, Poland August 11, 2021. Image Credit: Reuters

Warsaw: Polish lawmakers on Wednesday voted in favour of a bill that the opposition says aims to silence a US-owned news channel critical of the government, setting up a clash with one of Warsaw’s most important allies.

Washington has warned that a failure to renew the licence of Discovery-owned news channel TVN24 could jeopardise future investments in Poland, while opposition politicians have condemned the bill as an attack on media freedoms.

“Today’s vote... is an attack on freedom, an attack on media that is independent from the government,” Grzegorz Schetyna, a lawmaker from the largest opposition party Civic Platform, wrote on Twitter.

The bill, which would strengthen a ban on firms from outside the European Economic Area controlling Polish broadcasters, passed with 228 votes in favour, 216 against and 10 abstentions.

“We are bringing in rules that are similar in other European Union countries, we have the right to regulate questions about capital in a way the Polish parliament deems appropriate,” said government spokesman Piotr Muller.

TVN24’s parent, TVN, is owned by the US-based media group Discovery Inc via a firm registered in the Netherlands, to get around a ban on non-European firms owning more than 49% of Polish media companies.

The bill would forbid such an arrangement and comes shortly before the deadline for the renewal of TVN24’s licence, which expires on Sept. 26.

“The 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 and Discovery,” Discovery said in a statement.

Ahead of the vote, US State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters the country was watching the media bill and a separate bill on Holocaust restitution “very closely”.

The media bill will now go to the upper house of parliament, the Senate.

Property restitution

The lower house of parliament also passed a separate bill which is expected to make it harder for Jews to recover property seized by Nazi German occupiers and kept by postwar communist rulers. This bill had already gone through the Senate, meaning it now goes to the president to be signed into law.

“I condemn the legislation that was passed in the Polish Parliament today, which damages both the memory of the Holocaust and the rights of its victims,” Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said in a statement.

Earlier in the evening, Polish opposition lawmakers said they had shown the governing United Right coalition could not command a majority when they succeeded in passing a motion to postpone the sitting.

However, joy turned to outrage when speaker Elzbieta Witek said the vote had to be repeated because she had forgotten to specify the date until which the sitting was to be postponed.

“What you are doing is absolutely illegal,” said Civil Platform lawmaker Borys Budka.

Jaroslaw Sachajko of the Kukiz 15 party, which is not part of the ruling coalition but supports some of its policies, said the party’s four lawmakers had originally voted for the opposition motion by mistake.

Uncertainty about the government’s ability to command a majority had mounted on Tuesday when Jaroslaw Gowin, head of junior coalition partner Accord, was removed from the post of deputy premier.