US Ambassador’s letter causes storm

Georgette Mosbacher, the US ambassador to Poland. Photo: PAP/Leszek Szymański

The US Ambassador to Poland Georgette Mosbacher is reported to have written a letter to PM Mateusz Morawiecki criticizing comments made by Polish ministers on commercial station TVN’s investigative programme which showed a ‘celebration’ of Hitler’s birthday by an obscure radical group.

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TVN, owned by Discovery, broadcast earlier in the year a programme in which it showed a group celebrating Hitler’s birthday in a forest. The programme shocked domestic and national public opinion. However, a member of the group alleged to have organized the event has testified in front of a public prosecutor that he was paid to organize the event (the date of which did not fall on Hitler’s actual birthday) and told that he must have a journalist from TVN present.

According to the portal of the Polish weekly “Do Rzeczy”, the US ambassador has sent a letter to the Polish Prime Minister, commenting on the investigation launched into TVN’s role in the “Hitler’s Birthday” event.

No official comments have been forthcoming from the Polish government in the letter. However, it is reported by “Do Rzeczy” that the Deputy Prime Minister Jarosław Gowin had already cancelled a meeting with the US ambassador, following her comments at a meeting with MPs. At that meeting last week, the US Ambassador had said that any attempt to pass legislation affecting foreign ownership of Polish media would lead to a strong reaction from the US.

The Minister of the Interior, Joachim Brudziński, whom the portal “Do Rzeczy” reports as having been the target of negative comment from the US ambassador for his criticism of the TVN programme, has posted on his Twitter account that he can “assure everyone who was offended by his criticism of TVN24 that whenever I feel that media deserve criticism I shall continue to criticize them”.

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A former Foreign Affairs minister in the current government, Witold Waszczykowski, has called statements by the US ambassador examples of “megaphone diplomacy”. A TVP journalist Cezary Gnyz commented that the US ambassador needed to remember that Poles do not like it when ambassadors start behaving like rulers by proxy.

The US ambassador’s unconventional style has certainly made her highly visible in Poland. She has promised that she will take care of the issue of the lifting of US visa requirements on Polish citizens. A bold statement, given the fact that this issue has not been resolved by successive administrations and the Congress for well over a decade.

Eyebrows over the reported letter to the PM will have been raised not so much by the fact that the US ambassador is attempting to protect the interests and good name of a US company, but by the fact that she is alleged to have used such strong and forthright terms to do so. Some commentators will also compare and contrast the stances taken by the US ambassador’s boss, the US President, towards the media, with those of the Polish government. Donald Trump has on very many occasions been critical of the media, both foreign and domestic.

Others will also point out that criticism is a part of free speech and public debate, and that neither politicians nor the media can be immune from it. There will be those who may criticise the US ambassador for having commented on an issue affecting a Polish public prosecutor’s investigation.