WARSAW (Reuters) – Protesters who gathered in several cities on Sunday urged Poland’s president to veto a media law they and other critics say aims to limit media freedoms in the European Union’s largest eastern member.
Unexpectedly rushed through parliament on Friday, the legislation would tighten rules around foreign ownership of media, specifically affecting the ability of news channel TVN24, owned by U.S. media company Discovery Inc, to operate.
The bill, which has yet to be signed into law by President Andrzej Duda, has soured relations between NATO-member state Poland and the United States.
It has also fuelled wider fears about attacks on media freedoms that have been running high since state-run oil company PKN Orlen said last year it was taking over a German-owned publisher of regional newspapers.
“At this moment we are talking about TVN, but it is not just about TVN,” senator Bogdan Klich, a member of the largest opposition party Civic Platform, told a crowd in Krakow.
“It’s about the future of free speech in Poland, about the future of our democracy.”
Police said around 800 people took part in the protest in the southern city. Organisers put the figure at 5,000-8,000.
Pictures from Klich’s Twitter account showed demonstrators brandishing placards with slogans including “Free People, Free Media” and “Poland For All”.
As of 1550 GMT, a petition in support of TVN24 had gathered more that 800,000 signatures, the channel said.
Smaller protests were held in several other towns, with larger protests, including one outside the presidential palace in Warsaw, scheduled for 1800 GMT.
The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has long said that foreign media groups have too much power in the country and distort public debate.
Critics say the moves against foreign media groups are part of an increasingly authoritarian agenda that has put Warsaw at loggerheads with Brussels over LGBT rights and judicial reforms.
(Reporting by Alan Charlish and Pawel Florkiewicz; editing by John Stonestreet)