Wednesday, August 10

Poles protest across the country to defend press freedom

Poles flocked to city centers across the country on Sunday to defend an American-owned television network under attack by the country’s right-wing government and to protect press freedom in a Union nation. European where democratic norms are eroding.

Among the protesters were older Poles who resisted the country’s communist regime decades ago and who fear that the democracy they helped introduce is now being lost. Many Poles believe that Poland’s right-wing populist government is turning the country away from the West and adopting an authoritarian model closer to that of Turkey or Russia with attempts to exert political control over the courts and silence critical media.

Donald Tusk, leader of the main opposition party, called on Poles to show solidarity and change their leadership.

“Let’s sweep this power away!” Tusk, a former Polish prime minister and former EU president, told the crowd in Warsaw.

The protests were called after parliament unexpectedly passed a bill on Friday that would force Discovery Inc. to sell its majority stake in TVN, Poland’s largest television network.

The lower house of parliament voted for it in the summer, but the Senate vetoed it. Without warning, parliament suddenly returned the bill and the lower house overrode the Senate veto.

The fate of the bill now rests with President Andrzej Duda. The main protest on Sunday took place in front of the presidential palace in Warsaw, with protesters demanding that Duda veto the bill.

Government leaders have defended the legislation, arguing that it is important to national security to ensure that no company outside of Europe can control companies that help shape public opinion.

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TVN operates a news channel TVN24 and its main channel, TVN, has a nightly news program watched by millions of people offering reports critical of the government. Critics believe that Poland’s right-wing government is simply moving to silence an outlet that seeks to hold power to account.

A series of speakers on Sunday accused the authorities of attacking Poland’s democratic foundations, and the crowd shouted “Free media!”

Jarosław Kurski, deputy editor of Gazeta Wyborcza, a liberal newspaper that has uncovered a series of government scandals and has been sued numerous times by government allies, accused the ruling party of trying to silence the media to steal Poland’s upcoming elections, which are scheduled. in 2023.

“The mafia has taken over the country. They want to master all elements of public life, ”Kurski said.

The United States, a close ally of Warsaw, had urged lawmakers not to pass the law. US Charge d’Affaires Bix Aliu said the US was “extremely disappointed” by the bill’s passage and urged Duda to “use his leadership to protect freedom of speech and business” .

Duda, who is an ally of the ruling party, in the summer indicated that he would not support it, but on Friday he said he still needed to analyze it.

A protester in Warsaw, Joanna Glowczyk Zobek, said the authorities would probably not mind the protests, “but let the world see that in Poland there are not only supporters of Law and Justice, supporters of boring propaganda, there are also people normal that they want to be citizens of Europe and that they want to have good relations with the whole world ”.

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TVN launched an online petition on Sunday asking Duda to veto the bill, which was signed overnight by 2 million people in the country of 38 million.

“The attack on press freedom has far-reaching consequences for the future of Poland,” the appeal reads. “Mutual relations with the United States, the greatest ally and guarantor of our country’s security, are being destroyed. We cannot allow it! “

Discovery also pledged in a statement to “fight tirelessly for our business.”

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