Polish lawmakers have advanced a bill that the opposition says aims to silence a U.S.-owned news channel critical of the government, leading to a swift denunciation from the United States, one of Warsaw's most important allies.
Washington had warned that failure to renew the license of Discovery-owned news channel TVN24 could jeopardize future investments in Poland, while opposition politicians have condemned the bill as an attack on media freedoms.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington was "deeply troubled" by passage of the bill by the lower house of parliament, which he said targeted the most-watched independent news station in Poland and one of the largest U.S. investments in the country.
"Large U.S. commercial investments in Poland tie our prosperity together and enhance our collective security," he said. "This draft legislation threatens media freedom and could undermine Poland’s strong investment climate," Blinken said in a statement.
The media bill would strengthen a ban on firms from outside the European Economic Area controlling Polish broadcasters. The measure passed the lower house of parliament and now moves to the Senate.
Polish government spokesman Piotr Muller said Poland was bringing in rules similar to those in other European Union countries and added: "We have the right to regulate questions about capital in a way the Polish parliament deems appropriate."
TVN24's parent, TVN, is owned by the U.S.-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 license, which expires on Sept. 26.
In a tweet, Grzegorz Schetyna, a lawmaker from the largest opposition party, Civic Platform, called Wednesday's vote "an attack on freedom, an attack on media that is independent from the government."
Discovery called it "an attack on core democratic principles of freedom of speech, the independence of the media and is directly discriminatory against TVN and Discovery."