Scripps' Polish Channel Fined for Coverage of Anti-Government Protests

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Police and demonstrators clash in Warsaw

TVN24 is fined $400,000 for "urging viewers to participate in illegal protests" in a move the U.S. State Department says undermines media freedom in Poland.

TVN24, a Polish TV news channel owned by U.S. media giant Scripps Network Interactive, has been fined more than $400,000 by Poland's media regulator over allegedly biased coverage of anti-government protests.

Footage shot by TVN24 "failed to inform viewers that the [2016] December 16-18 protests held outside parliament were unlawful," Teresa Brykczynska, a spokeswoman for regulator KRRiT, said, and in so doing effectively urged "viewers to participate in illegal protests."

TVN24, which is part of Polish TV group TVN that Scripps acquired in 2015 for $615 million in the largest ever U.S. media deal in Poland, is appealing the fine of 1.5 million zlotys ($414,000) imposed for a news report shot when a group of liberal opposition legislators occupied the Polish parliament last December in a protest by the ruling right-wing Law and Justice Party to ban journalists from covering proceedings there. The measure was later dropped.

The channel's coverage of the incident had prompted "many complaints," the regulator said, and the channel had "created a climate of tension and threat."

TVN24 said a report on its coverage by the regulator lacked objectivity and defended its reporting as balanced and objective, pointing to interviews it carried with government supporters as well as opposition parliamentarians.

"The [regulator's] report provides only selected tendentious fragments of the broadcast program [and] prove a predetermined thesis," said Adam Pieczynski, a spokesman for TVN24. "Presenting facts — compatible or unlawful — cannot be treated as a way of encouraging any actions, just as showing the course and consequences of a traffic accident is not propagating violations of road safety rules."

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said: "Every state should have a free and honest press. We are extremely concerned about the direction in which Poland seems to be heading." She added: "This decision seems to undermine and interfere in the freedom of the media in Poland, a country that is our close ally and democratic partner. We watch it carefully."

Media freedom in Poland has come under greater scrutiny since the Freedom and Justice party came to power two years ago, after which it increased government control of state media and attacked the independence of the judiciary.

Last July, the European Union criticized Poland, an EU member state, for what it called "intimidation" of journalists critical of the government, saying that media freedom in the country should be respected.