The Poles have staged nationwide protests, including a rally of thousands outside the presidential palace to demand from the head of state the veto of a law they say would limit media freedoms in the most large eastern member of the European Union.
Unexpectedly in parliament on Friday, the legislation would tighten the rules on foreign media ownership, specifically affecting the ability of news channel TVN24, owned by US media company Discovery Inc, to function.
The bill, which has yet to be enacted by President Andrzej Duda, has deteriorated relations between NATO member state Poland and the United States at a time of heightened tension in Europe’s Is in the midst of what some countries see as heightened Russian assertion.
It has also fueled wider fears over attacks on media freedom, which have grown high since state-owned oil company PKN Orlen announced last year it was taking over a German publisher of regional newspapers.
“It’s not just one channel,” Warsaw mayor and former opposition presidential candidate Rafal Trzaskowski told a crowd on Sunday. “In a moment [there will be] Internet censorship, an attempt to shut down all independent sources of information – but we will not allow that to happen. “
During protests outside the presidential palace, Emilia Zlotinska, 38, told Agence France-Presse: “We need freedom of expression. I would like the chairman not to sign it.
Footage from TVN24 showed protesters in Warsaw waving Polish and European flags and chanting “free media”.
“We have to be here today because free media is a pillar of democracy,” said Beata Laciak, crowd member and sociology professor.
Demonstrations took place across the country. Images from the southern city of Krakow showed protesters waving banners with slogans such as “Hands off DTV” and “Free Poland, free people, free media”.
As of 8:20 p.m. local time, more than 1.5 million people had signed a petition in defense of TVN24, the channel said.
The ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) has long said that foreign media groups have too much power in the country and distort public debate.
Critics say the measures against foreign media groups are part of an increasingly authoritarian agenda that has put Warsaw at odds with Brussels over LGBT rights and judicial reforms.
Last week, the US State Department called on Duda to protect free speech, the freedom to do business, property rights and equal treatment.
“The United States is deeply troubled by the passage in Poland today of a law that would undermine freedom of expression, undermine media freedom and erode foreign investors’ confidence in their property rights and sanctity of contracts in Poland, ”State Department spokesman Ned Price said. in a press release on Friday.
The European Commission said the new law sends another negative signal about respect for the rule of law and democratic values in Poland.
“Once this bill becomes law, the committee will not hesitate to take action in the event of non-compliance with EU law,” Commission Vice-President Vera Jourova said in a statement.
Reuters and Agence France-Presse contributed to this report