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Lawmakers attend a session of the parliamentary commission on an amendment to the Broadcasting Act, in Warsaw

Polish government fails to pass bill limiting media freedom

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland’s right-wing ruling party failed to get a majority Wednesday to pass a bill that would prevent non-European owners from having controlling stakes in Polish media companies.

The legislation would have forced Discovery Inc., the U.S. broadcaster that is owner of Poland’s largest private television network, TVN, to sell its Polish holdings. It was seen as a major attack on media independence in a European Union nation that has already been criticized for reducing media diversity and judicial independence.

The move to postpone the vote was unexpected and came amid a chaotic and emotional session in parliament. Some opposition lawmakers rejoiced and said there was still hope to preserve media independence.

The vote on the media bill was scheduled for Wednesday but was put off until September after an opposition leader called for the postponement and that motion got a majority of votes.

The fact that Law and Justice, the ruling party, failed to prevent the postponement was understood as a sign that it did not have the support to pass the media bill, at least not now.

READ MORE: Poles protest bill that would silence U.S.-owned TV network

Some opposition lawmakers, who believe the ruling party is dismantling democracy, also expressed hope that it has lost its narrow majority in parliament needed to pass laws.

The development in parliament followed two days of political upheaval that saw the prime minister on Tuesday fire a deputy prime minister who opposed the media bill. That minister, Jaroslaw Gowin, heads a small coalition partner with 13 seats in the 460-seat lower house that formally left the ruling coalition on Wednesday.

There was a battle to the end for every single vote to pass it, as Law and Justice sought to win over some members of Gowin’s party. The government spokesman shortly before the vote said he was confident that the ruling party had the votes to pass it. In the end some right-wing opposition lawmakers who appeared ready to support the law backed out.

The media bill has been viewed as a crucial test for the survival of independent news outlets in the former communist nation, coming six years into the rule of a populist government that has chipped away at media and judicial independence.

It is not immediately clear if the ruling right-wing party, Law and Justice, will still eventually find a way to get the votes to pass the law.

Aside from the legislation, the state broadcasting authority has for more than a year refused to extend TVN24’s broadcasting license, which expires in late September.

Protests against the media amendment were held in dozens of cities and towns in Poland on Tuesday. Speakers voiced their fear that eliminating TVN as an independent voice would bring back a level of censorship that many Poles still remember from communism.