The dispute surrounding Discovery’s future in Poland seems to be spiralling out of control. It is also becoming increasingly difficult to predict with any degree of confidence how it might end.
Discovery is a key player in the country’s TV industry and the owner of the national commercial broadcaster TVN, whose interests include the news-based channel TVN24. The latter, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this month, is the most popular information channel in Poland and – along with TVN itself – seen as oppositional to the government. Although it has a satellite broadcasting licence that is due to expire on September 26, it has so far met with resistance in having it renewed by the National Broadcasting Council (KRRiT).
At the same time, the government, which is led by the Law and Justice Party (PiS), has put forward amendments to the Broadcast Act that if adopted will result in companies not based in the European Economic Area (EEA) not being able to own TV and radio stations in Poland. This ‘Lex TVN’, as it has been called, would automatically exclude Discovery from operating in Poland.
Despite losing the support of a junior coalition partner, the government won approval for Lex TVN in the Sejm (parliament) earlier this week and the amendments will now be discussed in the Senate before being returned to the Sejm. The decision on whether or not to pass Lex TVN will ultimately be made by the Polish President Andrzej Duda.
National protests against Lex TVN took place earlier this week and the Sejm vote was widely reported in the foreign press. Meanwhile, the Biden administration is taking a close interest in what is considered a strategic ally, and Discovery has just announced that it has sent a “Notice of Dispute” to President Andrzej Duda saying it will take legal action under the bilateral investment treaty between the two countries.
PiS has already indicated that there will be some changes made to Lex TVN in the Senate, one of which will be that ownership restrictions will not apply to satellite-delivered channels, including TVN24.
Industry sources have also suggested that Discovery may look for ways to bypass Lex TVN. These could include using a European investment fund or floating TVN on the stock exchange.
Discovery could of course sell part of TVN to a European media group, though at this stage it looks unlikely.
Whatever the eventual outcome, this is undoubtedly a highly damaging dispute from which there will probably be no real winners.
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