US Ambassador: media freedom warning

The US Ambassador to Poland Georgette Mosbacher. Photo: PAP/Rafał Guz

US Ambassador Georgette Mosbacher warned that anything that could be construed as affecting media freedom in Poland could affect Polish-US relations.

The US ambassador visited the Polish Parliament on Wednesday and met with members of the Parliamentary Polish-American group. One of the topics of the meeting was the lifting of visa requirements for Poles travelling to the USA. The US ambassador, consistent with her previous system, said that she was watching progress with regard to the objective of lifting visas and repeated her promise that the visa regime will soon be lifted.

The US Ambassador enquired whether there was any prospect of Poland processing legislation that would restrict media ownership to companies with a majority of shares being in Polish hands. Such legislation would lead to foreign owners of media outlets in Poland probably having to withdraw from the country. Among such owners is an American concern that owns Poland’s major commercial TV network TVN.

Ambassador Mosbacher was quoted as saying that “there is great sympathy for Poland in Congress, but there is one thing that could damage that relationship, any attempt to restrict media freedom. I want to warn about that, as I am being open with you.”

Opposition MPs briefed the press of these words. Ruling party deputies preferred to concentrate on the wider context of the words which were about freedom of expression in the media rather than simply about the ownership issue.

Deconcentration

Deconcentration of ownership of the media has been debated in Poland since the early noughties. There are concerns over the fact that large parts of the commercial media are in foreign hands. It is also often cited that there are several EU countries that have legislation limiting the potential for concentration of media ownership.

The concern in Poland with restricting ownership rights to Polish capital is that it could lead to state companies becoming the owners of commercial media, which could give the government considerable influence over them.

Media freedom in Poland

In terms of views currently represented in the Polish media the picture is diverse in a way that is rather similar to what has happened in the USA in the last few years. Media have become polarised between liberal and conservative positions. This process began in the noughties and has accelerated in recent years. Both sides of the political spectrum now have media that are sympathetic to their outlook. In that sense the balance between right and left is currently probably greater than it was before 2015.

An active US ambassadorship

Itr is now clear that Georgette Mosbacher will be a high profile US ambassador in Poland. She has raised eyebrows with her strong statements on promising to remove visa requirements for Poles. She has also been very form in hinting that there is every likelihood that the US military presence in Poland will be significantly enlarged.

Her latest comments on media freedom in Poland will not be welcome by all. Some will inevitably regard them as meddling in internal Polish politics. But they will be noted with care. They reflect concerns in the US state department which also surfaced last year during the debate over judicial reform in Poland

US-Polish relations

Polish-US relations suffered a blip earlier in the year when Poland passed an anti-defamation law that made it a crime to blame Poles or the Polish state for the holocaust. After protests from both the Israeli and the American governments Poland amended the legislation removing the penalisation clauses from the law.

Every since then the relations have been improving rapidly. Polish President Andrzej Duda was invited to the White House in September and the two countries are actively discussing the enlargement of the US military presence in Poland and a substantial contract for the purchase of LNG gas has been signed by the Polish gas company PGNiG. Poland was also glad of the US opposition to the Nord stream 2 Russian-German pipeline project, even if that opposition has stopped short of threatening sanctions against those companies involved with implementing the project

Poland wants to be a key ally of the US within the EU. But it is not prepared to oppose EU policies on Iran, trade or climate change.

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