Joe Biden’s team has emphasized from the beginning that, unlike Donald Trump, it will not be indifferent when governments in other countries, especially allies, deviate from democratic norms.
Acting U.S. ambassador to Warsaw, Chargé d’Affaires B. Bix Aliu, reacted swiftly to a bill by the Polish government to ban media owned by non-EU corporations, most notably the TVN television station hated by the “good change” government.” The U.S. has been observing the TVN licensing process and the newly proposed legislation with rising concern. TVN has been an essential part of the Polish media landscape for over 20 years. Unfettered press is crucial for democracy,” the diplomat stated Thursday. A tweet from State Department spokesman Ned Price on Friday was a bit more cautious, but also left little doubt about how the U.S. government views the latest move by Jarosław Kaczynski’s team. “Diverse voices and independent viewpoints keep the public informed and the government accountable – they are essential to democracies, including Poland and the United States.” Price wrote.
Biden Is Not Trump. He Will Not Let Go of the TVN Issue.
Several years ago when the Law and Justice Party, known as PiS, launched the first attack on TVN, frying a bill on the “repolonization” of the media, then U.S. Ambassador Georgette Mosbacher came to TVN’s defense. Her protests against the dissection of the station’s owner, Discovery, Inc., could eventually be interpreted mainly as a defense of the economic interests of the American corporation, as U.S. governments tend to do. Mosbacher was an envoy appointed by Trump, who is not known for his particular devotion to the ideals of free media and other democratic principles.
In Washington, however, we already have a new team, which has stressed from the beginning that, unlike the previous president, it will not be indifferent when governments of foreign countries, especially allies, deviate from democratic norms. The critical statements of American diplomats are the first sign that the Biden administration will not let go of the PiS government’s campaign against TVN. This is not only attributed to the American investment in Poland.
Under Trump, the PiS-led coalition could get away with tightening control over subsequent institutions of power, including the courts, because, for the former president, Poland was a counterweight in Europe to Western European countries that were hesitant about him. Trump was particularly appreciative of the tributes and expressions of unconditional friendship he received, and never hid his sympathy for autocrats.
Poland’s friends in the U.S., such as former Ambassador Daniel Fried, suspect that the Trump administration’s leniency toward the excesses of the “good change,” manifested by uninterrupted military cooperation, has somehow dulled the vigilance of the government in Warsaw, which may think it can get away with anything. This, of course, is an illusion.
What PiS Wants To Achieve in Washington
The bill, which would allow Polish media to be owned by corporations in the European Union but not in the United States, has a particularly anti-American bent, which allows the opposition to stigmatize it as a “war on America.” For a government that claims to be a better ally of the U.S. than its predecessors, this is no small public relations success.
There is speculation that PiS is risking this idiotic confrontation in order to gain something in negotiations with Washington. Is TVN supposed to be a bargaining chip in the efforts to get the Polish president a visit to the White House or for some better conditions for the purchase of military equipment? That would be a relatively optimistic outcome, because there are also voices saying that the geniuses in our government are sacking America without a special plan and without considering the political consequences. Not to mention that the image of the U.S. partner influences the decisions of Washington – not only the government, but also of Congress – regarding Polish-American relations.
Kaczynski, a Step behind Orban
In the media and the speeches of Democratic Party politicians in the U.S., Hungary and its leader, Viktor Orbán, have long been the main bête noire in Central and Eastern Europe. Poland usually comes in at second place. Hungary tops the blacklist because the independent media are already effectively incapacitated there, among other reasons. If PiS does not hesitate to push through its bill, force Discovery to sell TVN, and then eliminate the station from the media market by other means, we will be closer to Kaczynski’s dream of ‘Budapest in Warsaw,’ and closer to replacing Hungary as the leader in the race to dismantle democracy in EU countries.