Georgette Mosbacher, the U.S. ambassador to Poland, has angered Polish officials by sending a letter to Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki expressing concern over the treatment of a U.S.-owned television station that operates there.
The letter, which was leaked to Polish media on Tuesday and is dated Nov. 19, chastises Morawiecki, President Andrzej Duda and Interior Minister Joachim Brudzinski for government officials' attempts to prosecute journalists at the independent TVN24 news channel. The channel is owned by Discovery Inc., an American company.
In January, TVN journalists aired an undercover report that showed neo-Nazis in Poland celebrating Adolf Hitler’s birthday in 2017. The footage came amid a rise of anti-Semitism in the country and the passage of a law that made acknowledging any Polish complicity in the Holocaust a crime.
Members of the government questioned the report’s integrity. Brudzinski tweeted that TVN’s piece was “provocation which is hideous and repulsive and devastating Poland’s image in the world," according to a translation by Politico.
“I hope that members of your government will refrain from attacking, let alone prosecuting, independent journalists, who articulate public interests and strengthen our societies,” Mosbacher wrote. In a handwritten addendum at the bottom of the letter, she added: “We have to figure this out. It is getting in the way of the really important things.”
Months after TVN’s story ran, the channel said, the government attempted to prosecute the journalists who filmed the report on neo-Nazis. On Friday evening, agents from Poland’s Internal Security Agency visited the cameraman’s house and gave him a summons to appear for questioning under suspicion of promoting fascism, according to the Associated Press. (The matter was dropped on Sunday, the AP reported.)
Mosbacher, a business executive, Republican donor and former Fox News contributor, was sworn in as ambassador in September. Since then, she has come out in support of media freedom, which is in peril under Poland’s far-right leadership.
In 2017, Freedom House downgraded the country’s press freedom ranking from free to partly free “due to government intolerance toward independent or critical reporting, excessive political interference in the affairs of public media, and restrictions on speech regarding Polish history and identity, which have collectively contributed to increased self-censorship and polarization.”
But to some Polish commentators, Mosbacher’s staunch support of the right to negative political coverage comes with a hint of irony.
"If in the name of freedom of speech the American ambassador writes that politicians shouldn’t attack media, one could spitefully say that an identical letter should be sent to President Donald Trump,” wrote Michal Szuldrzynski, a Polish newspaper commentator, according to the Associated Press.