Polish broadcaster TVP under fire for censoring Obama

US president’s criticism of country’s democracy turned into praise by state-run station

US president Barack Obama after attending the Nato Summit in Warsaw: his criticism of Poland’s democracy was censored by the state-run broadcaster TVP. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

US president Barack Obama after attending the Nato Summit in Warsaw: his criticism of Poland’s democracy was censored by the state-run broadcaster TVP. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

 

Poland’s state-run broadcaster TVP has come under fire for turning critical remarks by US president Barack Obama about the state of Polish democracy into praise.

In pointed diplomatic remarks in Warsaw, following a meeting with Polish president Andrzej Duda, Mr Obama drew attention to the long-running refusal of Poland’s national conservative government to publish rulings by the constitutional tribunal – effectively suspending judicial oversight of the Warsaw administration.

“I expressed to President Duda our concerns over certain actions, and the impasse over Poland’s constitutional tribunal,” said Mr Obama, during his visit for the Nato summit. “I insisted that we are very respectful of Poland’s sovereignty and I recognise that parliament is working on legislation to take some important steps, but more work needs to be done.”

Mr Duda made no comment on the remarks while his spokesman, Marek Magierowski, said: “I don’t see a problem here.”

The problem began when TVP finished with Mr Obama’s remarks in its television news report. A TVP journalist said that, “concerning the issue of the constitutional tribunal, [Mr Obama] said he is sure that spreading democratic values in Poland will not cease”.

The report then showed a clip of Mr Obama saying, in translation: “Poland is and will be an example of democracy for the whole world.” What the president actually said, in a nod to the Solidarity movement that toppled communism was: “Poland stands and needs to continue to stand as an example for democratic practices around the world.”

For critics of TVP, airbrushing Mr Obama’s diplomatic broadside has confirmed their worst suspicions about public broadcasting in Poland since last year’s change of government.

Weeks after winning an absolute majority in October’s general election, the Law and Justice (PiS) government passed a new media Bill putting senior TVP appointments under the direct remit of the treasury ministry. A purge of PiS critical journalists has followed, as have efforts to play down – or ignore entirely – anti-government street protests.

Proposed government changes to operations at the constitutional tribunal have been rejected by the judges as unconstitutional, as have efforts by the government to set aside judicial appointments by the previous administration.

With effectively no judicial oversight, Poland’s government has folded the independent prosecutor general’s office into the justice ministry; passed a modified surveillance Bill that allows domestic intelligence to spy on domestic communications without concrete suspicion and only retrospective court oversight.

Critical reports on the rule of law in Poland – by the Council of Europe and the European Commission – have been dismissed by PiS as non-binding legal opinions.

For months, PiS critics in Poland have said that the only criticism that counts is from the United States.

And, even if TVP declined to broadcast it, Mr Obama made clear that “as your friend and ally we urged all parties to work together to sustain Poland’s democratic institutions”.

“That’s what makes us democracies, not just . . . that we vote in elections, but the institutions we depend on every day such as the rule of law and independent judiciaries.”