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Poland to push ahead with limits on foreign media ownership, sources say

WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland is ready to craft rules to reduce foreign ownership of media outlets such as newspapers and TV channels, while making further changes to the judiciary, Poland’s de facto leader has signaled, raising the prospect of fresh battles with the EU.

FILE PHOTO: Poland's Law and Justice (PiS) leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski speaks in Warsaw, Poland, October 13, 2019. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

The leader of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party Jaroslaw Kaczynski made the comments at a strategy meeting on Thursday in Jachranka, a tourist spot outside Warsaw, two sources in attendance and one with knowledge of the meeting told Reuters.

PiS didn’t respond to a Reuters request for comment.

The meeting was held after PiS candidate Andrzej Duda won re-election in a July presidential vote, triggering plans for a government reconstruction and a new political programme set to be introduced in September or October.

PiS has long insisted that foreign-owned outlets distort the public debate and are unfairly critical of its government.

While judiciary reforms have gone forward since PiS came to power in 2015, bringing Poland into conflict with the EU over perceived interference in the independence of the judiciary, PiS’s desire to restrict foreign ownership of the media has remained no more than a topic of debate.

The sources did not say if Kaczynski had mentioned any specific media outlets as possible targets of any reform, but the issue came into focus during the presidential election campaign in July after partly German-owned tabloid Fakt reported on a pardon Duda granted to a man who had served his sentence in a paedophilia case.

Duda asked if this meant Germany was trying to meddle in the election. Fakt denied any political meddling and said it is run by Polish journalists and editors.

A fear of igniting further fights with the EU as well as a focus on other political priorities stopped the government from pushing ahead with media ownership reforms in the past, officials have told Reuters.

But the recent PiS electoral win, likely cementing its power until parliamentary elections in 2023, bolstered the debate to finally push ahead with media reforms, party insiders indicated.

“If he said it, there is a big chance that it’ll go ahead,” one source allied with PiS said.

Officials said the reforms would focus on reducing the proportion of foreign ownership allowed in media companies and would be modeled on existing legislation in France and Germany.

“The current situation can’t be reconciled with a pro-nation policy,” another PiS politician told Reuters. “We realise we will start a huge fight with the European Union, we have to be prepared for this.”

PiS officials have also discussed in the past the possibility of purchasing a chain of German-owned regional newspapers by a state-owned company, although it’s unclear if this would be part of the current media push.

The topic of the meeting was first reported on Friday by Polish private radio RMF FM.

Reporting by Joanna Plucinska; Editing by David Holmes

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