“The United States is deeply troubled by the passage in Poland ... of a law that would undermine freedom of expression, weaken media freedom, and erode foreign investors confidence in their property rights and the sanctity of contracts in Poland,” US State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.
The legislation, which strengthens a ban on companies from outside the European Economic Area controlling Polish broadcasters, passed with 229 votes in favour, 212 against and 11 abstentions in a final vote in Poland's parliament on Friday.
The contested bill, which strengthens a ban on companies from outside the European Economic Area controlling Polish broadcasters, passed with 229 votes in favour, 212 against and 11 abstentions in a final vote in Poland's parliament at the end of last week. Photo: PAP/Tomasz Gzell
It now goes to President Andrzej Duda for signing into law.
The US State Department called on Duda to "reaffirm his past statements about respecting the shared democratic norms that underpin our relationship and his commitment to defend the constitutional principles of freedom of speech, freedom to engage in economic activity, property rights, and equal treatment under the law."
The US State Department statement said: "We strongly encourage him to respect these norms and commitments in regard to this legislation that will severely affect media freedom and the foreign investment climate in Poland, if it is allowed to become law."
It added: "A free and independent media strengthens our democracies, makes the Transatlantic Alliance more resilient, and undergirds our bilateral relationship. We look forward to working with the Government of Poland to advance our shared priorities on the basis of democratic values and respect for fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression. Now is the time for solidarity among Allies."
Duda, an ally of the country's ruling conservative government, has previously said that takeovers of foreign-owned media groups should take place on market terms and not with forced solutions, in a sign he could use his power to veto the bill, the Reuters news agency reported.
“The bill will of course be analysed by us and an appropriate decision will be made," Duda told reporters on Friday.
"I have already talked about the point of view from which I will assess the bill,” he added.
Polish President Andrzej Duda. Photo: Eliza Radzikowska-Białobrzewska/KPRP
During emotional debates in parliament, opposition MPs have decried the bill as an attack on media freedoms and an attempt to gag TVN24, a US-owned news channel critical of the government.
Critics have also warned that the controversial new regulations could harm US investment in Poland and sour Warsaw's relations with Washington.
Opposition lawmakers said the manner in which the vote took place on Friday was illegal and breached democratic standards, Reuters reported.
The European Commission said the new law was sending another negative signal about the rule of law and respect for democratic values in Poland, according to Reuters.
“Once this bill becomes a law, the Commission will not hesitate to take action in case of non-compliance with EU law,” Commission Vice-President Věra Jourová said in a statement.
A group of prominent US senators in the summer warned the Polish government against pursuing legislation that they say would infringe on a free, independent media and jeopardize US media investment in Poland.
On Sunday, thousands of people protested across Poland in defence of media freedoms, objecting to the law passed by parliament.
A protest in defence of media freedoms in the southern Polish city of Kraków on Sunday. Photo: PAP/Łukasz Gągulski
Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said in July that the bill aiming to tighten foreign ownership rules for media firms was a “perfectly normal” legislative move.
Deputy Prime Minister Jacek Sasin has said the proposed new media rules are designed to provide “tools to protect the media market from an aggressive takeover by Russian or Chinese capital."
He told reporters in the summer that the "mass media should not become a mouthpiece for spreading views that may threaten Poland's security.”
Poland’s governing conservatives have long argued that foreign entities own too much of the country’s mass media and distort the public debate.
Source: PAP, Reuters, state.gov
Click on the audio player above for a report by Radio Poland's Tomasz Ferenc.