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Discovery, Inc. on Thursday announced that it has formally notified the Polish government that it will take legal action against it under the bilateral investment treaty between the United States of America and the Republic of Poland.
Discovery claims that Poland’s right-wing government is unfairly targeting the Discovery-owned Polish network TVN in an effort to force the American broadcaster out of the country and to silence TVN’s popular all-news channel TVN24, one of the few networks that regularly criticizes the Warsaw government.
On Wednesday, the Polish parliament narrowly passed a new bill that would restrict foreign ownership of Polish television channels, banning any companies based outside the European Union from owning a Polish broadcaster. The bill still has to pass the Senate and be signed by the Polish President to become law.
If enacted, the bill would force Discovery to sell TVN, which is the country’s leading independent broadcasting group and news provider. Discovery’s stake in TVN, valued at around $2 billion, also represents one of the largest U.S. investments in Poland.
Discovery claims that the current Polish government — run by the right-wing Law and Justice party — has targeted TVN “in an arbitrary and discriminatory manner” for several years as “part of a broader crackdown on independent media and in direct violation of legal protections around freedom of expression.”
In a statement, JB Perrette, President and CEO of Discovery International, said Discovery has “successfully operated and invested in Poland for nearly 25 years, making us now one of the biggest international investors and employers in this incredible country. The current Polish government’s damaging and discriminatory actions, however, leave us no choice but to bring charges under the US-Poland bilateral investment treaty.”
Discovery sent a notice of the dispute to Polish President Andrzej Duda on Thursday.
“Discovery continues to strive for a positive resolution to this situation,” the company said in a statement, “but should this fail, Discovery intends to commence arbitration proceedings in accordance with Article IX(3) of the [Bilateral Investment] Treaty and seek full compensation for Poland’s breaches.”
The Bilateral Investment Treaty, signed between the U.S. and the Republic of Poland on March 21, 1990, is intended to encourage U.S. investment in Poland and vice versa by creating a level playing field for companies in both countries. It obliges both nations to fair and equitable treatment of each other investors and companies, non-impairment by arbitrary and discriminatory measures, non-discrimination in granting licenses, and the prohibition on expropriation without compensation. Discovery claims the Polish government’s actions in regard to TVN — the government recently refused to extend the network’s ten-year broadcast license — “violates several obligations under the Treaty.”
“We are deeply committed to safeguarding our investment in Poland and its people, defending the public’s interest in independent media and the rights of freedom of expression,” said Perrette. “Discovery, as a protected investor in Poland, is afforded important rights and freedoms under the US-Polish Treaty. We do believe this legislation will have a chilling effect on U.S. and European investment into the Polish economy, and we will aggressively defend our rights.”
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