Donald Trump and the snub that wasn’t | Open Door | Paul Chadwick | Opinion

During Donald Trump’s recent European visit a news item briefly flared in which the Polish president’s wife, Agata Kornhauser-Duda, was presented as having snubbed the US president. She ignored his outstretched hand and instead shook the hand of Trump’s wife, Melania.

Or so the footage, circulated by several major media outlets including the Guardian, seemed to show. It was enhanced by at least one closeup of Trump looking piqued, and it garnered a big audience. On social media, some celebrated Trump’s apparent discomfort. Kornhauser-Duda was hailed for landing a subtle blow for women.

But the item was wrong. By suggesting a deliberate snub it misled.

More complete footage of the incident showed Kornhauser-Duda unable to greet Melania when the Polish couple joined the Trumps on stage because the two women were positioned to the extreme left and right of the husbands standing side by side between them. Having already shaken Trump’s hand once, when the music stopped and applause began Kornhauser-Duda walked in front of both husbands towards Melania, looking at her and stretching out a hand. Kornhauser-Duda did not appear to see Trump’s hand, which he was offering as she passed after Trump had shaken hands with Poland’s president, Andrzej Duda. As soon as she had shaken Melania’s hand, Kornhauser-Duda turned and without hesitation accepted Trump’s.

When a reader drew attention to the way the edited version distorted what had taken place, I raised the issue with the relevant Guardian editors, and they immediately accepted the need to correct. Staff who put together the item for the Guardian told me they based it on wire service material from a regular and reputable source. In that material the incident was already framed as an apparent snub. It did seem to fit into the growing catalogue of Trump’s odd greetings.

Donald Trump: awkward handshake moments compilation

I am satisfied that the Guardian did not set out to mislead, but that was the initial effect. Several other major media organisations made the same mistake and some also corrected it, as the fact-checking organisation Snopes has reported.

The episode, in itself minor, is nevertheless a reminder of two major points that contemporary journalism cannot afford to neglect. The first is the ease with which the label “fake news” can be applied with a superficial persuasiveness to flawed journalism. President Duda defended his wife on Twitter and exhorted followers to fight fake news.

Second is the connection between trust and willingness to admit and correct significant error. Not new, of course, but in this period of serious challenge to the legitimacy of institutional journalism it is worth restating. Readers know, from their own life experience, that all institutions are fallible. Institutions that pretend to infallibility merit wariness. Admission of imperfection, not denial of it, earns trust.

Early this year, the Trusting News project, by the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri, carried out an online survey of 8,728 Americans, who ranked four UK-based media organisations among the 10 most trusted news sources in the United States: the Economist came first, Reuters third, the BBC fourth and the Guardian seventh.

The methodology explains limitations, so caution is required with the results. The trust ranking is based on the proportion of “trusted” versus “not trusted” responses given about 39 news sources that were mentioned at least 10 times. The report does not tackle the puzzle: why do a sample of Americans, invited into the survey via 28 US newsrooms, rate British news sources so highly? One commentator wondered if it is the accent.

Asked what made a news source credible to them, respondents frequently mentioned: presenting information on both sides of an issue or argument; using multiple sources; and fact-checking.

Trust is hard-won, easily lost. In the continuous effort to maintain credibility – as well as commercial viability – institutional journalism needs to be vigilant to avoid cases like the snub that wasn’t. When they happen they need to be corrected frankly and quickly.

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What’s the mood like in Poland? | World news

Polish president Andrzej Duda has moved to veto two bills that have sparked protests throughout the nation.

The bills are seen by many as attacks on the independence of the judicial system by the ruling Law and Justice party, led by Jarosław Kaczyński.

Protests over the weekend were joined by former president Lech Wałęsa as the EU was expected to give the government until September to reverse the laws.

We would like to hear from people living in Poland to help us understand the mood in the country.

How to contribute

To get in touch, you can fill out the form below – anonymously if you prefer – and we’ll use some of your contributions in our reporting. Only the Guardian has access to your submissions which we will keep as secure as possible.

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Why suspicion remains over Polish president’s veto of contentious laws | World news

The Polish president Andrzej Duda’s decision to yield to street protests and veto two of three bills that threatened to give the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) control of the country’s judicial system was as surprising as it was dramatic.

A former PiS MEP and relative unknown before his election to the presidency in 2015, Duda, as the country’s head of state, is nominally above party politics. In practice, however, he has played an instrumental role in his former party’s hostile takeover of public media outlets and the country’s highest constitutional court. Critics have accused him of violating his oath to uphold the Polish constitution on innumerable occasions.

The protesters focused their attention squarely on Duda and his power of veto and – for now – they have succeeded. What comes next is less clear and will depend on the rationale behind the president’s decision.

The first possibility is that the vetoes signal a wholesale climbdown on behalf of the government: the abandonment of its plan to seize effective control of judicial appointments.

Optimistic observers cite the example of the so-called Black Protest in October against a proposed blanket ban on abortion, when hundreds of thousands of protesters – predominantly women wearing black – took to the streets and forced a government volte-face.

Although the government did not initiate the abortion ban, which was proposed by hardline conservative groups, PiS MPs had waved it through the early stages of the legislative process, sparking a furious reaction they had clearly not expected.

It is a conventional wisdom that as an authoritarian-minded party, anger on the streets is the only kind of opposition PiS respects or understands. The argument goes that every now and again the party will go too far, trigger public anger, and then retreat to lick its wounds.

The second possibility is that Duda’s vetoes mark only a tactical retreat. The president has not rejected the government’s proposals outright. Instead, he has spoken of the need to “repair” them so that public faith is restored.

Duda or the government could propose a new set of proposals amounting to token concessions that do little to address the fundamental concern of the protesters: that the independence of the judiciary is under threat.

PiS may be hoping it can take the wind out of the protesters’ sails, portraying itself as the reasonable party to the dispute and the protesters as acting in bad faith when they inevitably reject the government’s “generous” concessions.

Advocates of this interpretation note Duda threatened last week to veto the legislation unless the government agreed to a series of concessions. Initial excitement among the protesters soon faded, however, as it became clear his conditions did nothing to address the fundamentally undemocratic nature of the changes. Rather than asserting his independence and defending the rule of law, Duda appeared to be coordinating his response with the government so as to facilitate the legislation’s eventual enactment.

The third possibility is that after two years in office, Duda has finally decided to define himself in opposition to his former party.

Long ridiculed for his apparent dependence upon and subservience to the PiS leader, Jarosław Kaczyński, Duda may have decided that a close association with the Law and Justice project will do his re-election prospects more harm than good.

Although there is little reason to believe that is the case, were Duda to split from his mentor and patron it could be the first act of a revolution within the ruling party, leading to a split and its eventual downfall.

But as they wait for Duda and the government to make its next move, excitement among the protesters about the veto is giving way to a troubling question: why, in 2017, do they still need to fight so hard for something as basic as the right to a fair trial.

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The Guardian view on Poland’s courts: people power and a glimmer of hope | Editorial | Opinion

People power has historically been a powerful force in Poland. The energy and singular determination of the 1980s grassroots Solidarity movement played a key role in ending Soviet-imposed dictatorship in central Europe. Strikes and demonstrations brought down tyranny through a peaceful transition. Recalling this is important today, as a polarised country struggles with threats to democracy levelled not from the outside but from within. Since 2015, an elected populist and nationalist government with a deep authoritarian streak has transformed Poland into a quasi-pariah in the European club, as well as a political battlefield.

This week, after eight days of nationwide street protests, the president, Andrzej Duda, surprised many by appearing to break ranks with the ruling party over its intention to place the judiciary fully under its control. Mr Duda vetoed two key pieces of legislation aimed at wiping out the independence of the supreme court and giving parliament control over the body that hires judges. His motives remain a matter of speculation. The bills, he explained, “would not strengthen the sense of justice in society”. Mr Duda had up until then sided with every government move to curtail independent institutions. Was this a genuine U-turn, or a tactical retreat designed to take the edge off the protests? His decision was welcome, but far from sufficient; he signed a third bill allowing political control over the heads of courts. The government already has control of the constitutional court. Many fear that the other legislation will return in only marginally amended form.

Still, it is unlikely that any reversal would have occurred without the perseverance of large crowds who held candlelit vigils and waved banners with slogans such as “freedom, equality, democracy”. Doubts among conservatives played a part too, as did European pressures, with Brussels officials warning that the assault on the courts might lead to sanctions. The EU will reportedly underline that message on Wednesday, telling Warsaw there will be consequences if it begins firing judges en masse. That is all the more important given that Donald Trump’s recent visit, with his praise for the government and its ultraconservative views, is likely to have emboldened the ruling party’s worst instincts.

Poland is deeply divided. Mr Duda’s vetoes have offered protesters a glimmer of hope; but his ratification of the third bill is a step backwards for the country. Pressure must be resolutely maintained.

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Polish senate approves bill to give government influence over courts | World news

Poland’s upper house of parliament has approved a supreme court overhaul, defying the EU and critics at home who say the legislation will undermine democratic checks and balances.

Tens of thousands of protesters gathered in Warsaw and cities across Poland for candlelit vigils to protest against the draft bill, as the senate debated it late into the night. Some protesters carried Polish and European Union flags, chanting: “Free courts.”

To become law, the proposal still has to be signed by the president, Andrzej Duda, an ally of the ruling conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party.

Duda’s spokesman, Andrzej Łapiński, said on Saturday he saw flaws in the legislation and an inconsistency between two articles regarding the appointment of the head for Poland’s top court.

Łapiński stopped short of saying whether the president would reject the bill or seek the opinion of the constitutional court. Duda has 21 days to sign it into law.

The Eurosceptic PiS argues new rules are needed to make the judiciary accountable and efficient.

But the opposition and judges’ groups in Poland as well as critics in Brussels say the legislation is a new step by the Polish government towards authoritarianism.

The US, Poland’s most important ally in Nato, issued a statement urging Poland to ensure any changes respect the constitution. “We urge all sides to ensure that any judicial reform does not violate Poland’s constitution or international legal obligations and respects the principles of judicial independence and separation of powers,” it said.

An opinion poll for the private television network TVN showed on Friday that 55% of respondents said Duda should veto the overhaul of the judiciary, while 29% wanted him to sign it.

Since coming into power in 2015, the PiS has sought to tighten government influence over courts, and brought prosecutors and state media under direct government control. It has also introduced restrictions on public gatherings and made it harder for some non-governmental organisations to function.

“We believe that Poland is slowly but systematically turning into a penal institution,” the opposition senator Jan Rulewski, a veteran activist of the anti-communism movement, said during the debate, dressed in a prison uniform.

The PiS remains broadly popular among the electorate, despite an upswelling of protest in recent days as it rushed the judiciary overhaul through parliament. With the economy growing robustly and unemployment at record lows, the party’s nationalist rhetoric infused with Catholic piety resonates strongly among Poland’s conservative voters.

The government of the biggest eastern EU state has so far dismissed criticism, saying the changes would ensure state institutions serve all Poles, not just the “elites”.

On Wednesday, the EU gave Poland a week to shelve the judicial reforms that Brussels says will put courts under direct government control.

If the PiS government does not back down, Poland could face fines and even a suspension of its voting rights, although other Eurosceptic EU governments, notably Hungary, are likely to veto strict punishments.

The Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, said on Saturday that Budapest would fight to defend Poland. “The inquisition offensive against Poland can never succeed because Hungary will use all legal options in the European Union to show solidarity with the Poles,” he said.

Like the PiS leader, Jarosław Aleksander Kaczyński, a former Polish prime minister, Orbán has clashed with Brussels for years over a perceived disrespect for democratic freedoms and has increasingly posed as a freedom fighter against EU overreach.

Senior Czech judges denounced the judicial overhaul in Poland as an attack on the rule of law.

The PiS has offered some concessions on demand from the president, but has presented criticism from abroad as unacceptable meddling in the domestic affairs of the country, which overthrew communism in 1989 and joined the EU in 2004.

“We will not give into pressure. We will not be intimidated by Polish and foreign defenders of the interests of the elite,” the Polish prime minister, Beata Szydło, said on state television.

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Poland may be stripped of EU voting rights over judicial independence | World news

The EU is on the brink of taking the nuclear option of stripping Poland of its voting rights in Brussels in response to plans by its rightwing government to “abolish” the independence of the country’s judiciary.

Frans Timmermans, the first vice-president of the European commission, accused Warsaw of seeking to put judges under full political control as he warned that the EU was “very close” to triggering article 7, a never-before-used sanction in the treaties that allows a member state’s voting rights in the council of ministers to be suspended.

Poland’s ruling rightwing Law and Justice party (PiS) has been in almost constant conflict with the European commission since it was elected. In recent weeks the Polish government has proposed a series of reforms that would give ministers power over the appointment of judges and members of the country’s supreme court.

The first step in the EU triggering article 7 is an assessment of whether there has been a breach of fundamental rights, which could be launched as early as next week on the recommendation of the commission. “What we decide next week depends on developments also this week,” Timmermans said, as he called for fresh dialogue with Warsaw.

Should a breach of fundamental rights be found, a motion to suspend Poland’s voting rights would then need to win the support of member states under the EU’s system of qualified majority voting. Two-thirds of the European parliament would also need to give its consent.

Timmermans told reporters in Brussels that the recent proposal from the Polish government to increase political control of the judiciary was a grave threat to the fundamental values of the EU.

“These laws considerably increase the systemic threat to the rule of law in Poland. Each individual law, if adopted, would seriously erode the independence of the Polish judiciary. Collectively they would abolish any remaining judicial independence and put the judiciary under full political control of the government.

“Under these reforms judges will serve at the pleasure of political leaders, and be dependent upon them, from their appointment to their pension.”

The commissioner added: “I think every citizen wants to have, if they need to, a day in court without having to say, ‘Hmm, is this judge going to get a call from a minister telling him what to do?’.”

Timmermans said he was confident he would have the support of member states should he recommend the triggering of article 7.

In Warsaw, Rafał Trzaskowski, an MP with the opposition Civic Platform party and a former Europe minister, said Poland was being pushed to the margins of the EU by its authoritarian government.

He said: “It’s absolutely clear that patience is running out, not only in the European commission, but also in many European capitals.

“The initiation of article 7 would be unprecedented, and it would show quite clearly how marginalised the current government is in the European Union.”

Timmermans, a former Dutch minister who has been the subject of personal attacks by Polish ministers over his tough stance with Poland in recent months, said he had written earlier this month to Warsaw about his concerns, but appeals for the proposed laws not to be pursued had been ignored. Two of the four pieces of legislation in question have since been adopted by parliament.

Timmermans said any concerns that triggering article 7 would push Poland to follow the UK out of the union would not be an obstacle to the EU taking action. He insisted there was “no way” the Polish people would ever choose to leave the union.

The commissioner also called on the Polish government to respect the right of journalists to do their job, after a Brussels-based TV journalist was accused by state-controlled Polish TV of asking politically motivated questions with intent “to harm Poland” after she sought information from the European commission about its intentions with regard to protecting the rule of law.

“There are lot of emotions around this,” he said. “A lot of personal attacks, people’s personal credibility or integrity has been put to discussion, mine, other people’s. I can take it. They should take their best shot. But what should not be happening is that journalists should be intimidated.”

The president, Andrzej Duda, gives a speech about the bill on Poland’s supreme court in Warsaw

The president, Andrzej Duda, gives a speech about the bill on Poland’s supreme court in Warsaw. Photograph: Jacek Turczyk/EPA

Andrzej Duda, Poland’s PiS-aligned president, had sought to calm the situation on Tuesday evening, as crowds gathered outside the presidential palace for a candlelit vigil to demand he veto the supreme court legislation.

In a televised address, he said he would only sign the supreme court bill if legislation passed last week giving parliament control of the National Council of the Judiciary (KRS), a hitherto independent body responsible for appointing Polish judges, were amended.

Under Duda’s proposal, appointments to the KRS would require a three-fifths majority in parliament, rather than a simple majority as contained in the present legislation, meaning that as parliament is presently constituted, Law and Justice would not be able to appoint judges by itself.

“The judiciary is a very serious issue. It needs to be reformed – but wisely,” he said, arguing that his aim was “to avoid accusations that the KRS … is working under a political dictate.”
However, Timmermans suggested that the president had not gone far enough. Under Duda’s proposal a coalition of Law and Justice and affiliated rightwing parties would still be able to push through appointments to the body. The supreme court legislation before parliament envisages “silent consent” for judicial appointments should the KRS not express a view within 14 days, meaning that a paralysed council would still give the justice minister the power of appointment over the supreme court.

“Duda’s proposal does not change the essential mechanisms of the three combined legal acts, which grant the government political control over the judiciary,” said Mikołaj Pietrzak, chair of the Warsaw Bar Association. “It’s not constitutional, and it’s not satisfactory. It’s just smoke and mirrors.”

The European commission is also preparing infringement proceedings against Poland for breaches in EU law. Asked whether Hungary – whose rightwing prime minister, Viktor Orbán, has also repeatedly clashed with the commission – could also be in line for the ultimate sanction, Timmermans said the nature of Poland’s breaches was of a far more serious nature.

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