WARSAW — Wary of jeopardizing Poland’s relations with the United States, its closest ally and military protector, the Polish president, Andrzej Duda, on Monday announced that he would veto a contentious media bill that could have led to an American-owned television station losing its license.
The veto frustrated a yearslong effort by more hard-line elements in Poland’s nationalist governing party to restrict foreign influence and shrink the country’s media space to outlets that share the party’s deeply conservative and sometimes xenophobic views.
Mr. Duda last year won a second term with support from the governing party, Law and Justice. His veto is likely to strain an already fractious coalition government bitterly divided over how far to push a conservative agenda rooted in fealty to the Catholic Church and the belief that Polish sovereignty trumps commitments to partners in the European Union and NATO, which Poland joined in 1999.
The Law and Justice party leader, Jarosław Kaczynski, had insisted that the media law was not targeted at American investors but was to protect Poland from Russian and Chinese meddling and to stop drug traffickers from buying Polish media to “launder dirty money.”
That cut little ice since the station most affected by the bill was TVN, which has numerous channels, including the popular all-news TVN24, and which is majority owned by the American company Discovery Inc. through a subsidiary registered in the Netherlands.
The station has been more critical of the government than most of the media, especially Poland’s public broadcaster, TVP, which has become a mouthpiece for the administration. Since Law and Justice took power in 2015, Poland has slipped steadily in media freedom rankings, falling behind Malawi and Armenia in an annual list compiled by Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based group that monitors and lobbies for press freedom.
Citing economic and trade deals with the United States, Mr. Duda said he would refuse to sign the bill into law because “if we have made an agreement, we must keep it” so as to ensure that Poland is seen as “an honorable nation.” He added, “I want Poland to be perceived in this way by its allies.”
With Poland already at loggerheads with the European Union over the rule of law, L.G.B.T.Q. rights and other issues, Mr. Duda said that he wanted to avoid potentially disruptive clashes over the media law.
“We do not need further disputes at this moment,” the president said in Warsaw, “We have a lot of problems. We have a pandemic, we have inflation,” he added.
The media bill was first adopted by Poland’s lower house of Parliament in October and, after being rejected by the opposition-controlled Senate, was revived this month through an unexpected series of pre-Christmas legislative maneuvers that infuriated the opposition and also prompted criticism from Britain and the United States, Poland’s strongest supporters in NATO.
There are around 4,500 U.S. military personnel on rotation in Poland, deployed there since 2017 as part of a push by NATO to deter possible threats by a resurgent Russia following Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.
The United States Embassy in Warsaw, which had earlier declared itself “extremely disappointed” by the original passage of the bill, on Monday welcomed President Duda’s veto in a message of thanks posted on Twitter. “Thank you, President Duda for leadership and commitment to common democratic values and for protecting the investment climate in Poland. Together, the allies are stronger!”
Donald Tusk, the leader of Poland’s biggest opposition party, Civic Platform, also welcomed the veto, saying it showed that street protests against the media law had worked. “Pressure makes sense,” he said.
Some supporters of the governing right-wing coalition, however, said they were dismayed and hurt by the president’s decision. “It hurts Polish hearts. A lot,” Janusz Kowalski, a right-wing member of Parliament, wrote on Twitter.