Delay to broadcasting licence for US-owned TVN24 was unlawful, finds Polish court

A court in Warsaw has ruled that Poland’s national broadcasting council (KRRiT) acted inappropriately regarding the extension of the licence for TVN24, a popular private US-owned news channel that has been strongly critical of the current government.

The court also rejected a complaint about the lengthiness of the proceedings, but TVN24 nevertheless welcomed the ruling.

The broadcaster applied to renew its licence more than 18 months before it was due to expire, but the broadcasting council repeatedly delayed its decision, finally renewing it in September just days before expiry.

US-owned TVN24 receives last-minute renewal of broadcasting licence in Poland

In its first ruling, the Warsaw provincial administrative court, which divided the complaint into two separate proceedings, dropped the case aiming to oblige the KRRiT chairman to issue decisions.

In its second verdict, however, it found that “there was inaction on the part of the authority, which had the character of a gross violation of law”, reports Press.pl, a media information website.

The court ordered the broadcasting council to pay the costs of the proceedings amounting to 597 zloty (€128) to the plaintiff. The verdict is not yet legally binding and both parties have the right to appeal, but TVN24 said it was pleased with the decision.

“We welcome the ruling of the provincial administrative court in Warsaw, which echoes the concerns repeatedly raised by TVN about the way the KRRiT chairman handled the TVN24 re-licensing case,” said the TVN Group press office in a statement sent to Wirtualne Media.

“The ruling that the inaction involved a gross violation of the law clearly shows that the licensing process for TVN24 was delayed for over a year and a half in a completely unlawful manner.”

The regulator did not immediately reply to Notes from Poland’s request for a comment.

In the licensing proceedings, the broadcasting council was seen as being under the influence of the ruling national-conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party. PiS regards TVN – the country’s largest private broadcaster – as hostile for its often critical coverage of the government.

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Entities from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) are barred from holding a majority stake in Polish broadcasters. But US media giant Discovery, Inc. got around this ban by owning TVN through a subsidiary in the Netherlands.

In December, the Polish parliament unexpectedly passed bill legislation, mainly with PiS votes, that would, according to the ruling party, end this loophole. PiS argued that it was necessary to prevent entities from places such as Russia and China from buying Polish media.

However, given that TVN was the only major broadcaster that would be affected by the change, critics saw it as an attempt by PiS to further restrict the Polish media landscape.

Poland falls to record low in World Press Freedom Index

The parliament’s decision caused a massive backlash, with thousands of Poles taking to streets nationwide including a thousands-strong rally outside the presidential palace to demand that Poland’s President Andrzej Duda veto the law, which he later did.

Under PiS’s rule, Poland has fallen to its lowest ever position in the World Press Freedom Index.

Main image credit: Maciek Jazwiecki / Agencja Gazeta

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