Poland's ruling party spurns election debates on U.S.-owned station

WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland's ruling nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party will not take part in election debates organised by private broadcaster TVN 24, it said on Friday, accusing the Warner Bros-owned station of bias in favour of the opposition.

The refusal comes as Donald Tusk, the leader of the largest opposition party Civic Platform (PO), has called on PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski to face him in person ahead of the closely contested Oct. 15 parliamentary election.

"This station has shown that it actively takes sides in the political debate in Poland, de facto campaigning for politicians connected with Donald Tusk," PiS said in a statement posted on social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.

TVN 24, Poland's biggest private news channel, said in a post on X that PiS was showing a "disregard for voters" by refusing to participate.

"The arguments used are an attempt to limit the independence and freedom of the media, and to avoid answering journalists' substantive questions," it said.

Media freedom is a closely watched issue in Poland with observers saying parties compete on an uneven playing field and accusing PiS of having used its eight years in power to turn public broadcasters into a party mouthpiece.

Poland scores second to last among its European Union peers, just before Hungary, on a press freedom index compiled by Reporters Without Borders.

PiS says it is foreign-owned outlets such as TVN 24, not public media, that distort debate in Poland and act against the country's interests.

In 2021, the party angered the United States with a bill, eventually vetoed by President Andrzej Duda, that would have tightened rules around foreign ownership of media. Critics said the law was designed to allow the party to take control over TVN, an accusation PiS denied.

Kaczynski, who launched PiS in 2001 with his twin brother Lech, and Tusk, a former European Council president, last met in a public debate in 2007. Many political observers have said that meeting was a turning point that cost PiS government in that year's election.

(Reporting by Alan Charlish and Marek Strzelecki; Editing by Conor Humphries)