WARSAW, Poland (AP) – Poles flocked to city centers across the country on Sunday to defend the US-owned television network being targeted by the country’s right-wing government and to protect media freedom in an EU country where democratic standards are eroding.
Among the protesters were prominent Polish politicians who for decades resisted the country’s communist regime and who fear that the democracy they helped usher in is now lost. Many Poles believe that Poland’s right-wing populist government is alienating the country from the West and adopting an authoritarian model akin to that of Turkey or Russia, with attempts to impose political control over the courts and silence critical media.
Donald Tusk, the leader of the main opposition party, called on the Poles to show solidarity and change their leadership.
“Let’s sweep this power away!” Tusk, a former Polish prime minister and former European Union president, told the crowd in Warsaw.
The protests were called after parliament on Friday unexpectedly passed a bill that would force Discovery to sell its controlling stake in TVN, Poland’s largest television network.
The House voted in favor of it in the summer but the Senate opposed it. Without any notice, Parliament suddenly reinstated the bill and the House override the Senate’s veto.
The fate of the bill now rests with President Andrzej Duda. The main protest was organized on Sunday in front of the presidential palace in Warsaw, where demonstrators demanded Duda to veto the bill.
Government leaders have defended the legislation by saying that it is important for national security to ensure that no company outside Europe can control companies that help shape public opinion.
TVN operates all-news channel TVN24, and its main channel, TVN, has an evening news program that is watched by millions and provides critical reporting of the government. Critics believe the right-wing government in Poland is only moving to silence an outlet seeking to hold power to account.
On Sunday, a string of speakers accused the authorities of attacking Poland’s democratic institutions, and the crowds chanted “Free media!”
Jaroslaw Korski, deputy editor-in-chief of Gazeta Wyborcza, a liberal newspaper that has exposed a series of government scandals and were brought up many times by government allies, accused the ruling party of seeking to silence the media in order to steal the upcoming Polish elections, which are due to take place. in 2023.
“The mafia has taken over the country. They want to master all the elements of public life,” said Korsky.
The United States, a close ally of Warsaw, urged lawmakers not to pass the law. US Chargé d’Affairs, Bex Aliu, said the US was “deeply disappointed” by the bill’s passage and urged Duda “to use his leadership to protect freedom of speech and business.”
Duda, who is allied with the ruling party, indicated in the summer that he would not support him, but said on Friday that he still needed to analyze that.
Protester in Warsaw, Joanna Glczyk Zubek, said the authorities might not care about the protests, “but let the world see that in Poland there are not only supporters of law and justice, supporters of lackluster propaganda, there are also ordinary people who want to be citizens of Europe and want to have good relations With the whole world.”
TVN launched an online petition on Sunday calling on Duda to veto the bill, which had been signed by two million people in the country of 38 million by evening.
“The attack on media freedom has far-reaching consequences for Poland’s future,” the appeal said. Mutual relations with the United States, the greatest ally and guarantor of our country’s security, are being destroyed. We can’t allow that! “
Discovery also vowed in a statement to “fight relentlessly for our business.”