Media rights CSOs warn of growing legal pressure on independent journalists in Poland

Expression

In December 2018 and January 2019, the international media rights organisation, the International Press Institute (IPI) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported that legal pressure on independent journalists is growing in Poland. Example is the case of legal intimidation against independent media outlets for their coverage of the corruption scandal concerning the country’s Financial Supervision Authority (KNF) and the National Bank of Poland (NBP). In November 2018, the NBP filed civil defamation complaints seeking to censor independent media writing about the corruption case. The NBP requested that articles be removed from the online archives of the newspapers Gazeta Wyborcza and Newsweek and that their journalists be banned from reporting further on the case. The Warsaw District Court rejected all six applications of the National Bank of Poland for “basic formal shortcomings”. CPJ reported that as of early January 2019, the NBP had not refiled its complaints following the international outcry.

Another high-profile media case faced similar censoring action. On 23 November 2018, Poland's Internal Security Agency raided the home of TVN reporter Piotr Wacowski. He was accused of spreading Nazi ideology. The accusations were related to the reporter’s undercover report for American owned private TV station TVN that exposeda neo-Nazi meeting. CPJ reported that the National Prosecutor's Office cancelled the reporter's hearing, saying that the charges were premature. In a statement, the broadcaster said that Wacowski "acted in accordance with all standards of investigative journalism" and that "putting the one who discloses criminal activity on an equal footing with criminals is an attempt to intimidate journalists." Pro-government websites suggested that the journalist staged the event.

In addition, in December 2018 a Krakow court ruled that German broadcaster ZDF air an apology on both German and Polish state television and pay damages for misrepresenting the anti-Nazi freedom fighters in a series on World War II. The court ordered that the broadcaster pay €5,000 in compensation to a 94-year-old concentration camp inmate and freedom fighter who saved Jews during the Holocaust and who initiated the case. The broadcaster said it would appeal the ruling and "regrets that the Krakow court did not devote enough attention to artistic freedom."

As the CIVICUS Monitor previously reported, in February 2018 Poland introduced legislation that imposes criminal sanctions on anyone who misrepresents the Polish nation’s role in the Holocaust. Due to international pressure, in June 2018 Polish lawmakers changed the law – now, those who paint a “false” picture of the nation’s history face civil rather than criminal procedure.

Peaceful Assembly

In January 2019, thousands of people joined marches across Poland after the fatal stabbing of the Gdańsk mayor Paweł Adamowicz and in protest at the pervasiveness of hate speech in Poland’s national discourse. The marches were peaceful and altercations have not been reported.

Paweł Adamowicz was stabbed on stage at a charity concert on 13th January 2019, in front of thousands of people and later succumbed to his injuries. The alleged perpetrator, a 27-year-old man, was reportedly mentally disturbed and recently released from prison. However, many believe that his murder should be seen as a result of the growing hate and social divisions in Polish society. Paweł Adamowicz was a leading liberal advocate and defender of migrants and refugees and of LGBT rights and, because of his views, he has been regularly subjected to personal attacks and abuse on social media and from right-wing media outlets, according to observers.

In a separate event, around 3,000 people marched on 8 December 2019 in a Climate March in Katowice to express dissatisfaction about global climate protection, coinciding with the international climate summit taking place in Katowice, the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP24). According to the Polish Press Agency, three men were detained at the march after a clash with police. According to media reports, a group of six Ukrainian environmentalists heading to Katowice were turned back at the Polish border on grounds of being a threat to national security.

During the Conference a number of restrictions were imposed on environmental rights activism such as a ban on spontaneous outdoor demonstrations in Katowice during the talks, while protests inside the UN climate summit were strictly controlled by allocating 30 minute slots in designated areas and guidance on the wording of signs. Environmental rights activists complained that these restrictions also weakened the impact of their campaign and restricted freedom of expression.