US group Discovery has threatened legal action against Poland if it approves a controversial media ownership law that the opposition says will curb press freedom.
Discovery “has formally notified the Polish government that it will take legal action under the bilateral investment treaty between the United States of America and the Republic of Poland,” the company said in a statement on Thursday.
The Polish parliament earlier this week gave initial approval to a new law that would ban companies based outside the European Economic Area from holding majority stakes in Polish broadcasters.
The planned new law has been heavily criticised by Brussels and Washington. It has also triggered street protests in support of media freedom in Poland.
The nationalist government says it is intended to stop hostile foreign powers from wielding undue influence in Poland but the opposition says it is aimed at silencing the Discovery-owned news channel TVN24, which frequently criticises government policy.
The law would oblige Discovery, which owns TVN outright, to sell off a majority stake and government opponents fear that a state company would buy it and put an end to the channel’s independence.
“The legislation is the latest assault on independent media and freedom of the press, and takes direct aim at Discovery’s TVN,” the company statement said, pointing out that the network was also “one of the largest US investments in Poland”.
Discovery said it had sent the notification to Polish President Andrzej Duda, who would have to sign off on the law if it is approved definitively by parliament in the coming weeks.
“The current Polish government’s damaging and discriminatory actions… leave us no choice,” JB Perrette, chief executive of Discovery International, said in the statement.
Discovery said that Poland was violating several obligations under the investment treaty, which was signed in 1990, including for “fair and equitable treatment” and “non-impairment by arbitrary and discriminatory measures”.
The United States is “deeply troubled” by the legislation, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said earlier this week, warning that it “threatens media freedom and could undermine Poland’s strong investment climate.