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Polish PM rejects US criticism of media and property restitution bills

WARSAW: Poland's prime minister on Thursday (Aug 12) rejected criticism of bills on media ownership and property restitution passed by parliament, after the United States, one of Warsaw's most important allies, denounced the legislation.

In a tumultuous sitting of parliament on Wednesday, Polish lawmakers passed a bill that would strengthen a ban on firms from outside the European Economic Area controlling Polish broadcasters.

The opposition says the bill aims to gag the news channel TVN24, which is owned by US-based media group Discovery and is critical of Poland's right-wing nationalist government.

Late on Thursday Discovery said it has notified the Polish government that it will take legal action under the bilateral investment treaty between the United States and Poland, branding Poland's failure to renew the TVN24 broadcasting license and yesterday's vote as "discriminatory".

"The legislation is the latest assault on independent media and freedom of the press, and takes direct aim at Discovery’s TVN," the company said in a statement.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington was "deeply troubled" by the passage of the bill, which he said targeted the most-watched independent news station in Poland and one of the largest US investments in the country.

Vera Jourova, European Commission Vice President for Values and Transparency, said the bill sent a "negative signal".

"We need a #MediaFreedomAct in the whole EU to uphold media freedom and support the rule of law," she tweeted.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki denied the bill was aimed at TVN.

"We do not have any intentions regarding a specific TV channel. It is just about tightening the regulations, so that there is no situation in which companies from outside the European Union would buy media in Poland," he told a news conference.

The bills must clear both houses of parliament and be signed by President Andrzej Duda to become law. Duda is close to the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) and is not expected to veto the legislation.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

Morawiecki later on Thursday also defended parliament's decision not to exempt NATO member countries from the ban.

"A military alliance is one thing, a common legislation and a common economic area is another," he said.

The United States is a founding member of the North Atlantic alliance.

Blinken had also called on Poland not to proceed with legislation that is expected to make it harder for Jews to recover property seized by Nazi German occupiers during the Holocaust and kept by postwar Communist rulers.

Morawiecki said the law would implement a 2015 ruling by Poland's Constitutional Tribunal that a deadline must be set after which faulty administrative decisions can no longer be challenged.

"This has nothing to do with the fears expressed by our American friends about us," he said.

A European Commission spokesperson said the EU executive would continue following all issues in Poland, including the restitution bill, and would "take any action necessary within the powers conferred to it by the treaties".

Source: Reuters/ec

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