Peter R de Vries (composition + photo: DWDD) Library

Netherlands: Shocking attack on veteran crime reporter requires swift…

Netherlands: Shocking attack on veteran crime reporter requires swift action

The European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) as part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) is appalled by the attack on veteran Dutch crime reporter Peter R. de Vries.

We call on the Dutch authorities to swiftly investigate and establish whether de Vries was targeted for his work as a journalist. The perpetrator(s) and mastermind(s) behind this horrific crime must be brought to justice without delay.

The European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) as part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) is appalled by the attack on veteran Dutch crime reporter Peter R. de Vries.

We call on the Dutch authorities to swiftly investigate and establish whether de Vries was targeted for his work as a journalist. The perpetrator(s) and mastermind(s) behind this horrific crime must be brought to justice without delay.

De Vries is well-known for his investigative reporting on the Dutch underworld and has repeatedly received serious threats as a consequence of his work. On Tuesday evening, de Vries was gunned down on the street in Amsterdam by an unidentified attacker after appearing as a guest on TV show RTL Boulevard. He was taken to hospital in critical condition. As reported on national broadcaster NOS, five shots were fired and de Vries was shot in the head. 

Regardless of the motive, the attack on de Vries is a tragic event for Europe’s journalistic community. Without safety for journalists, there can be no free press. 

“We are shocked by the attempted murder of investigative crime reporter Peter de Vries in the Netherlands. The manner in which he was attacked reminds us of the murders of Ján Kuciak, Daphne Caruana Galizia and Giorgos Karaivaz. We have to face the fact that investigative journalists exposing the actions of organised crime are in constant danger. The state must protect them”,

says Lutz Kinkel, Managing Director of ECPMF.

“The King and the Prime Minister of the Netherlands rightly called this an attack on journalism, press freedom and the rule of law. Now we ask them to follow through with conducting a thorough investigation of the case. The Netherlands are a role model regarding press freedom. But the horrible attack on de Vries also makes clear that the protection of journalists must be improved.”

Peter R. de Vries (Photo: DWDD) Library

Dutch crime journalist fighting for life after being shot…

Dutch crime journalist fighting for life after being shot five times

The International Press Institute (IPI) today expressed horror at the shooting and serious wounding of Dutch journalist Peter R. de Vries in Amsterdam and urged authorities to do all they can to ensure that all those responsible for both carrying out and possibly ordering the hit do not escape impunity.

A veteran investigative journalist focusing who has long reported on the Dutch criminal underworld, de Vries was seriously wounded after being shot five times including once in the head in a broad daylight attack in downtown Amsterdam at 7.30pm on Tuesday.

The journalist was rushed to hospital and is currently fighting for his life. Three arrests have so far been made including the suspected gunman, though no motive has yet been suggested by police.

“The shooting of courageous crime journalist Peter R. de Vries is a direct attack on the country’s journalistic community, on the freedom of the press and on Dutch society and democracy as a whole”, IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “We express our full support and solidarity with Peter, his family and his colleague and we hope he pulls through and makes a full recovery.

“While no movie has yet been confirmed by police, all signs point to this being a targeted and calculated attack aimed at silencing de Vries’s journalistic work. To see yet another journalist who has spent their career fighting for justice and exposing criminal acts gunned down is shocking and disturbing, and another heart-breaking day for media freedom in the European Union.

“The reaction so far from the authorities in the Netherlands – immediate arrests, strong condemnation from the Prime Minster and engagement with the national security and terrorism agency – has been commendable. Yet while the swift arrests are welcome, as previous cases of such attacks on journalists within the EU have shown, arrests and prosecutions do not guarantee convictions. Authorities must take the utmost care to ensure all those who carried out and possible ordered this assassination attempt must be swiftly brought to justice.”


de Vries, 64, was gunned down at close distance on Lange Leidsedwars minutes after he left the studio of daily television programme RTL Boulevard, where he had just appeared as a guest. Witnesses at the scene heard five gunshots and found the journalist in a pool of blood.

During his career, de Vries had worked on numerous high-profile investigations into the criminal and drug underworld of the Netherlands. Previously had had reported for newspapers De Telegraaf and Algemeen Dagblad, where he investigated and helped police solve cold cases. For the last two decades he had also hosted his own televised crime show

The well-known reporter, who is also the director of a law office, had received numerous death threats in the past due to his work and had previously been under police protection. He has regularly appeared as a spokesman for victims or as a witness and two years ago, he posted on Twitter that he was on a “death list”.

On Wednesday, Amsterdam’s police chief confirmed that one of the suspects arrested was “probably” the suspected shooter. Two individuals were arrested while driving a car on the motorway and another in Amsterdam, following information from witnesses at the scene. No further information has been provided on the suspected motive of the attack.

Police have cordoned off the area of the shooting and are currently analysing forensic evidence and CCTV footage from the scene.

Peter R. de Vries (Photo: DWDD) Library

Dutch journalist in critical condition after being shot five…

Dutch journalist in critical condition after being shot five times

Dutch journalist Peter R. de Vries is fighting for his life in hospital after being shot five times in Lange Leidsedwars street in Amsterdam yesterday evening at around 7.30. The police has arrested three suspects. The European and International Federations of Journalists (EFJ/IFJ) condemned the murder attempt as another tragic blow to press freedom in Europe.

On Tuesday evening, Peter R. de Vries was a guest on daily television programme RTL Boulevard. After leaving the building, he was shot several times at close range, including in the head, in a side street of the studio. Amsterdam’s mayor Femke Halsema told a press conference that the investigative journalist was “fighting for his life.” The police have arrested three suspects.

Peter R. de Vries (64) is a well-known Dutch investigative journalist who covered high-profile criminal investigation. He worked for De Telegraaf, Panorama magazine, Algemeen Dagblad and ran his own crime programme on television. He won an international Emmy Award in 2008 for his work investigating the 2006 disappearance of teenager Natalee Holloway in Aruba.

According to media reports, De Vries has been threatened in the past and was granted police protection. In 2019, he said on Twitter  that he would be on a death list. He has been acting as a counselor to a state witness testifying in the case against Ridouan Taghi, suspected of murder and drug trafficking.

The General Secretary of the Dutch Journalists’ Association (NVJ) Thomas Bruning said: “This hits journalism right in the heart. Of course, it remains to be seen what De Vries’ activities are related to, but the attack took place outside RTL Boulevard. De Vries is a fierce crimefighter, persistent and courageous. We can only hope he survives.”

EFJ President Mogens Blicher Bjerregard said: “I send my thoughts to Peter and expect an immediate investigation bringing the masterminds of this awful attack to justice. Enabling and protecting the crucial work of (investigative) journalists to deal with crime and other essential issues is key for any democracy.”

The EFJ had recently alerted over the escalation of violence against media professionals with an increase in attacks since last year and repeatedly called on the Dutch authorities to do the utmost to protect journalists and investigate all attacks.

IFJ President Younes MJahed said: “We are shocked by this attack against a journalist who has reported extensively on matters of public concerns and has taken huge risks to tell the truth. This is an attack on press freedom and we urge authorities to swiftly investigate this case. Our thoughts are with Peter, his family and friends.”
Deutscher_Bundestag_by_OlafKosinsky_2695-1 Library

Germany’s Federal Constitutional Protection Act removed protection for journalists

Germany’s Federal Constitutional Protection Act removed protection for journalists

On 10 June 2021, the German Bundestag approved amendments to the Federal Constitutional Protection Act, removing legal provisions that exempted journalists from surveillance and hacking during terrorism investigations. The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) joined its German affiliates, Deutscher Journalisten Verband (DJV) and Deutsche Journalistinnen und Journalisten Union (dju) in ver.di in criticising the Act as an infringement of journalists’ fundamental rights and a threat to the anonymity of whistleblowers.

Under the law, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution and the federal police will be given more powers to secretly monitor online activity and encrypted communications, such as on WhatsApp. Journalists are not exempt, so intelligence services will also be able to hack into journalists’ computers or smartphones on the strict condition that this is done in the context of terrorism investigations.

The EFJ President, Mogens Blicher Bjerregård, said: “Without exemptions for journalists, this law would not only violate press freedom but could be counterproductive for its own purpose having a negative impact on investigative journalism. With no exemptions, journalists risk running dry for sources in critical stories, and whistleblowers may be much more hesitant to reveal important information.”

The approval of these so-called “state Trojans” has drawn strong criticism, not only from members of the opposition of the Bundestag – who called such move “unconstitutional” – but also from journalists’ organisations, lawyers and experts, who warned that the provisions carried a considerable risk of abuse. They intend to file a constitutional complaint on press freedom grounds against the legislation with the country’s highest court. Journalists in particular, who rely on confidential communication with their informants, could be affected by this law.

Monique Hofmann, dju in ver.di General Secretary, said that the media are already being targeted by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution on “questionable grounds”. “Instead of creating a remedy through more transparency and control, the law in its current form cements this deficiency,” criticised Hofmann.

DJV press speaker Hendrik Zörner said: “Those affected do not notice the surveillance, nor do they need to be informed. So how should a journalist be able to guarantee the anonymity of his or her sources in the future? Not at all.”

Zdjęcie przedstawiające postać Daniela Obajtka Library

Poland: PKN Orlen media purchase violates EU merger rules…

Poland: PKN Orlen media purchase violates EU merger rules and media pluralism standards

The Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) today said that allowing the acquisition of regional newspaper publisher Polska Press by Poland’s state-controlled oil giant PKN Orlen to go forward would violate both EU and Polish merger rules and undermine media pluralism.

The MFRR supports legal arguments to this effect made by consortium member ARTICLE 19, which recently submitted an amicus brief to the Warsaw regional court of competition. The court is currently hearing the appeal of the Polish Human Rights Ombudsman against the January decision by Poland’s competition regulator, UOKiK, to approve the purchase.

The MFRR and other international media freedom and civil society groups have previously warned that the deal would hand the Law and Justice (PiS) government greater control over the media landscape ahead of upcoming local elections and lead to a purge of critical journalists and editors akin to the takeover of Telewizja Polska in 2016.

The purchase risks the acceleration of state-led media capture in Poland and echoes developments in Hungary in the mid-2010s, when government-backed oligarchs snapped up the country’s regional newspapers, turning them into party mouthpieces.

While Orlen is nominally a private company, the Polish state is the main stakeholder in the company and holds 32 percent of the voting rights. Orlen has itself stated, in recent occasions, that the Polish state has “de facto control” over the company.

Since finalising the sale, Orlen has broken clear commitments to respect editorial independence and staffing by dismissing or pushing out eight editors-in-chief at Polska Press titles, in contradiction of the court’s interim decision suspending the purchase.

Ahead of the ruling, the MFRR supports the appeal brought by Ombudsman Adam Bodnar and joins ARTICLE 19 stressing that the Regional Court in Warsaw must ensure its decision complies with both EU law on mergers and with Poland’s obligations with regards to European standards on media pluralism.


Legal analysis

We believe UOKiK’s failure to examine the extent of the Polish state’s control over Orlen and the clear risks to editorial independence this may pose – in addition its failure to consider the impact the acquisition has on competition and media pluralism – invalidates the entire assessment and constitutes sufficient ground for annulment of its original decision.

Firstly, it is clear that the Polish state wields de facto control over Orlen, with combined voting rights of 32.42%. The company’s CEO  was appointed by the government and has clear political allegiances to PiS party leader Jarosław Kaczyński. This raises serious questions about the future editorial independence of Polska Press and the risk of indirect government censorship.

Given the Polish government’s increasingly alarming record on media freedom and concerns about PiS’s use of Orlen to direct public advertising revenue away from critical outlets and distort the media market, UOKiK had a duty to assess the question of state control. However, its original assessment failed to examine this fundamental issue.

Orlen has already replaced the editors-in-chief of numerous Polska Press titles with journalists coming from the state-controlled broadcaster TVP and other pro-PiS media, in a first move to end criticism and ensure favourable coverage. Orlen’s other investments in the media sector, most prominently the creation of the Sigma BIS advertising agency with the state-owned insurance company PZU, is another sign of coordinated state cooperation and control.

Secondly, under EU law media pluralism is one of the factors that must be considered when assessing a merger. In testing the purchase with regards to the Polish Anti-Monopoly Act, which reflects the same test provided by EU merger rules, UOKiK should therefore have taken into account the risk that the transaction may have a negative impact on media pluralism in Poland. Its failure to do so constitutes sufficient ground for annulment of the decision.

Thirdly, by failing to assess whether the proposed takeover led to an infringement of Article 11(2) of the EU Charter regarding the freedom and pluralism of the media, UOKiK violated Article 4(3) TEU and Poland’s obligation of sincere cooperation with the European Union while carrying out its merger control assessment – another significant violation.

Lastly, UOKiK failed to consider media pluralism under the European Convention of Human Rights. By authorising a merger that would negatively impact media pluralism, or at the very minimum by authorising a merger without duly scrutinising the impact it could have on media pluralism, the state, through UOKiK, infringed its duties under Article 10 of the Convention.

Taken together, the MFRR firmly believe these failures by UOKiK warrant a decision by the court to repeal its original decision approving PKN Orlen’s December 2020 purchase of Polska Press from German company Verlagsgruppe Passau. Doing so would not only represent a victory for the rule of law, but also be an important victory for media freedom, pluralism and independence in Poland.

Signed by:

  • ARTICLE 19
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)

Slovakia Supreme Court hearing is crucial test in battle…

Slovakia Supreme Court hearing is crucial test in battle against Impunity

On June 15 the Slovak Supreme Court is expected to rule on the appeal brought by prosecutors against last summer’s not guilty verdict in the murder of journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée, Martina Kušnírová.

On June 15 the Slovak Supreme Court is expected to rule on the appeal brought by prosecutors against last summer’s not guilty verdict in the murder of journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée, Martina Kušnírová.

The International Press Institute (IPI) with the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), ARTICLE 19, and the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) as part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) urge the Supreme Court to carefully and exhaustively examine all available evidence in the case.

IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen will attend the hearing in Bratislava on behalf of IPI and the MFRR.

Controversial businessman Marian Kočner and a confidante, Alena Zsuzsová, were acquitted last summer of ordering Kuciak’s murder in February 2018. The Specialized Criminal Court in Pezinok, Slovakia, found that there was not enough evidence to rule conclusively that Kočner had ordered the hit.

The ruling was a tremendous setback for the fight against impunity in a case that gripped Slovak society, not least due to Kočner’s links to Slovakia’s political, judicial and security elite. The aftermath of the murder led to the resignation of top political figures, including former Prime Minister Robert Fico.

Three people have already been convicted in the case: gunman Miroslav Marček; getaway driver Tomáš Szabó; and middleman Zoltán Andruskó, who served as a key prosecution witness against Kočner and Zsuzsová. This outcome mirrors a global pattern: while hitmen are sometimes sentenced in journalist murder cases, the masterminds are almost never held to account.

Slovak prosecutors believed they had sufficient circumstantial evidence against Kočner and Zsuzsová to buck that trend. The Specialized Criminal Court disagreed, and the appeals case isfocused in part on whether the judges sufficiently interpreted cryptic messages between Kočner and Zsuzsová that prosecutors say referred to the murder. Around 10 pieces of new evidence have also been introduced, including heart rate monitoring data from Zsuzsová’s phone.

There will be much at stake when the Supreme Court rules on Tuesday. Three journalists have been murdered in the EU since 2017; in addition to Kuciak, Daphne Caruana Galizia was murdered in a car bombing in Malta in 2017, while Greek reporter Giorgos Karaivaz was shot dead earlier this year. In none of the three cases has full justice been achieved, an unacceptable outcome that endangers journalists across Europe.

The Supreme Court can either confirm the Special Criminal Court’s decision or send the case back to be heard again. Regardless of the court’s decision on Tuesday, the MFRR partners underscore that the fight for justice does not end on Tuesday. Slovakia’s institutions cannot rest until the masterminds behind the murder of Ján Kuciak and Martina Kušnírová are behind bars.

Signed by:

  • ARTICLE 19
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
President of the United States Joe Biden Photo: The White House Library

Biden urged to address media freedom in Hungary and…

Biden urged to address media freedom in Hungary and Poland during Europe visit

The Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) has published an open letter to U.S. President Joe Biden, urging him to address the deteriorating state of media freedom in Hungary and Poland as he meets with EU and NATO partners this week.

Dear President Biden,

On the occasion of your visit to Brussels to meet with the European Union and NATO partners, the Media Freedom Rapid Response wants to draw your attention to a serious deterioration in media freedom in certain European countries that profoundly threatens the rule of law underpinning our democracies and mutual security.

We are particularly concerned by the situation in Poland and Hungary where the respective governments have set out on a steady path to erode media pluralism and silence critical journalism through a process of state-led capture of the media.

Hungary is the leading exponent of the state capture strategy, by applying regulatory, legal and financial powers and creating a hostile environment that punishes and excludes critical media while building a pro-government propaganda apparatus. Independent media are subjected to a range of state-driven economic pressures such as the withdrawal of state advertising, targeted taxing and the removal of licenses. Most recently, the license of the radio broadcasterKlubrádió was denied on arbitrary grounds, a move that has now prompted an official enquiryby the European Commission.

Poland is now firmly set on a similar trajectory with the governing Law and Justice (PiS) party systematically undermining independent media, including foreign-owned media such as TVN24. Efforts to tighten the screws on independent media include blocking unfavoured mergers, a proposed new advertising tax, the discriminatory use of state advertising and a stream of vexatious lawsuits against its media critics. PiS has engaged PKN Orlen, the state-controlled energy giant, as a vehicle for gaining control over independent media. Its acquisition of regional news publisher Polska Press has already led to an editorial purge ahead of local elections.

These are not isolated cases. Media freedom is under increased pressure as populist politicians around the world, and in Europe, abuse government power to attack free speech. This, in turn, threatens democracy and the rule of law as bedrocks of the transatlantic relationship.

The U.S. has long been a leader when it comes to championing press freedom and free speech around the world. We believe that your visit offers an important opportunity to reclaim that mantle at a critical time and reinforce the U.S.’s commitment to media freedom as a shared value.

We therefore urge you as President of the United States to support efforts by the European Commission to demand reform in Poland and Hungary that guarantee media pluralism and independent journalism

Kind regards

International Press Institute

European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)

European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)

OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)


Albania: MFRR partners concerned about restrictions on access to…

Albania: MFRR partners concerned about restrictions on access to Parliament

Concerns over new restrictions for journalists and media workers in access to Parliament


Speaker of the Parliament of Albania, Gramoz Ruçi



European Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, Olivér Várhelyi

Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović


Sent electronically


Subject: Concerns over new restrictions for journalists and media workers in access to Parliament


Dear Mr Gramoz Ruçi,


We, the undersigned partners in the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), are concerned about recently approved restrictions for journalists and media workers reporting from the Albanian Parliament.

On 2 June 2021, the Bureau of the Assembly of Albania published an amended regulation for the Accreditation, Accommodation and Orientation of Mass Media in the Parliament. The rules, adopted without consultation with journalists and media workers’ associations and unions, civil society or other pertinent stakeholders, will come into effect in September 2021.

Compared with the rules currently in force, we are concerned these new restrictions to freedom of movement will negatively affect the ability of journalists and media workers to report and decrease the level of transparency of the Parliament:

  1. Accredited journalists from private media will only be able to report from a designated newsroom and will not be able to follow and report directly from the rooms where plenary or committee meetings take place or freely move around the building, as is currently the case. However, journalists from public broadcaster RTSH and public news agency ATSH will continue to have access.
  2. Access to video broadcasts during the meetings will be provided to the media by the Parliament itself.

These measures will restrict the access of journalists to lawmakers, limiting opportunities to ask critical questions and meaningfully engage. Concerns have been raised also that the control by parliamentary staff over the video feeds could give rise to censorship or manipulation. Moreover, the distinction between journalists working for private media and those working for the public broadcaster will create a dual system of access that is arbitrary and unfair.

In light of these concerns, we respectfully ask you to withdraw these new rules and maintain the current high standards of access for journalists and media workers. Any new changes should be introduced only after consultation with journalists’ associations and unions and civil society stakeholders. Equal, fair and unhindered coverage of parliamentary proceedings is a hallmark of a strong democracy. We urge the Albanian National Assembly to adhere to these principles.

Signed by:

  • Article 19
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)

Two decades of impunity for murder of Serbian journalist…

Two decades of impunity for murder of Serbian journalist Milan Pantić

To mark the twentieth anniversary of the killing of Serbian journalist Milan Pantić, the International Press Institute (IPI) today expressed support for those continuing the fight for justice and expressed frustration at the lack of progress in bringing indictments against those suspected to have been involved.

While other cases involving the murders of journalists in Serbia during the dissolution of Yugoslavia have made important if stalled progress on achieving justice in recent years, the case of Pantić has remained mired in impunity two decades later.

Pantić, a correspondent at the daily newspaper Vecernje Novosti, was killed after being struck on the head with a blunt object outside his home in the city of Jagodina in central Serbia on June 11, 2001. The targeted attack is widely believed to have been carried out as retaliation for his reporting on corrupt privatization deals following the fall of the Milosevic regime.

Despite efforts by the Serbian commission for investigating the killings of journalists to add fresh impetus into the case, no one has been charged or prosecuted and those responsible continue to evade justice. The Prosecutor’s Office for Organized Crime has declined to reopen the case despite repeated requests by civil society and media freedom groups.

“IPI shares the deep frustration of those in Serbia regarding the unacceptable lack of progress in solving the murder of Milan Pantić”, IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “While large amounts of information, testimony and evidence have been collected about the motive, background, and alleged perpetrators, little progress has been made in actually bringing those who planned and carried out the assassination to justice.

“Allowing this case to go cold would not only leave a gaping wound in the life of Pantić’s loved ones but it would also undermine the legitimate progress made in other journalist murder cases in Serbia. Law enforcement and special investigators must reignite their efforts to bring indictments and political authorities must ensure any factors blocking progress are removed.

“The convictions and combined prison sentences of 100 years handed down to those accused of murdering leading editor-in-chief Slavko Ćuruvija in 1999 are proof that historic cases of impunity can – and must – be resolved all these years later.  We hope that ongoing retrial will result in the same guilty verdicts. Our hope is that on future anniversaries of this tragic killing, the family of Milan Pantić can one day feel the same sense of justice. Time does not heal impunity. As long as cases like those of Milan Pantić remain unsolved, journalists in Serbia will remain at risk.”


Writing about the lack of progress on the anniversary, Veran Matić, chairman of the Commission for investigating the killings of journalists and an IPI World Press Freedom Hero, said: “If things remain unchanged, I don’t see what else we could do as a governmental Commission, having in mind we are soon entering the third decade since the killing of Milan Pantić.

“The presented, logically supported findings are convincing proof that we are close to the goal. Who, why and for what purpose is preventing the initiation of court proceedings and resolution of one of the greatest traumas of our journalism? The answer is being awaited by his family, the media and journalistic community, Serbian society and the international community. The deceased Milan deserves this answer the most, as all he did was doing his job professionally hoping to contribute to the public interest.”


Flawed investigations

Pantić was one of three journalists suspected to have been murdered in retaliation for their work in Serbia during the tumultuous decade spanning the 1990s and early 2000s. Dada Vujasinović was killed in 1994 and Slavko Ćuruvija was gunned down five years later.

According to the Commission, which has followed the case since its establishment in 2013, Pantić was killed due to his journalistic investigations into allegedly corrupt privatization deals that followed the transition to democracy at the turn of the century. Experts point to his reporting on the privatization of a brewery and a cement factory and on the local drugs trade. The attack took place around 8am as he returned to his apartment block from a nearby store.  Pantić was struck three times on the head with an object suspected to be a baseball bat.

While reports suggest that more than 1,000 people were interrogated in the original investigation, the Commission believes the investigation by police working groups and judicial authorities was seriously flawed. It says fingerprints were not taken from the site, Pantić’s clothes were not preserved, and that important investigative actions were not carried out correctly or at all. While the suspected motive and individuals involved have been identified, currently the prosecutor says there is not enough evidence to bring charges. In 2015, the names of two people suspected to have been involved were leaked to the press, yet no indictments have been brought.

In 2018, the Commission, an official government body made up of journalists, associations, and representatives from the police and State Security Agency, called on authorities to assign a Special Prosecutor to take over the case. To this day it has not received a response.


Poland: Orlen continues editorial purge at Polska Press

Poland: Orlen continues editorial purge at Polska Press

A purge of editorial management at regional newspapers owned by Polska Press has gathered pace in the last month, as the shockwaves of the controversial takeover of the publishing house by Poland’s state-controlled oil giant PKN Orlen continue to be felt.

A total of eight editors-in-chief have now been dismissed or pushed out since Orlen acquired the publishing house in March, with other editors and journalists at Polska Press titles across the country resigning in recent weeks.

Their dismissal and replacement by numerous journalists arriving from the state-controlled public broadcaster Telewizja Polska and other pro-government media has heightened fears that a Hungary-style takeover of regional media is now underway in Poland.

The accelerating editorial changes come despite a ruling made by a competition court in Warsaw in April which suspended regulatory approval of the acquisition by Orlen while an appeal brought by the country’s human rights ombudsman Adam Bodnar is examined.

Despite instructions by the District Court in Warsaw for Orlen not to make any personnel changes in the management board, Orlen began to dismiss members and replace them with its own appointments. It has now changed the entire management structure.

Among those appointed to the influential oversight board was Dorota Kania, a pro-government journalist and former editor-in-chief of editor-in-chief of Telewizja Republika. In mid-May, a new Polska Press president with experience overseeing pro-Law and Justice (PiS) media and state owned-companies was appointed following a hiring process in which candidates were given just four days to submit their applications.

Editorial changes

After Oren took over, newsrooms received letters from the oil conglomerate assuring them that editorial independence would not be affected, while the company’s CEO, Daniel Obajtek, explicitly promised journalists there would be no layoffs at Polska Press titles.

These pledges proved to be short lived. In late April, Obajtek backtracked and said that the owner had the right to make “certain personnel decisions in managerial positions”. In April, three editors-in-chiefs at Dziennik Zachodni, Gazeta Codzienna Nowiny and Gazeta Krakowska were dismissed and replaced with figures with clear links to pro-PiS media outlets or TVP.

More changes followed on June 1, with editors-in-chief at Gazeta Wrocławska, Głos Wielkopolski, Gazeta Lubuska and Polish Metropolis of Warsaw all dismissed. The same day it was also announced that the editor-in-chief of the Gazeta Pomorska, Express Bydgoski and News Dziennik Toruński would be leaving.

While some of these editor-in-chiefs left by so-called “mutual agreement” – shorthand for a diplomatic dismissal – others resigned themselves or were shuffled to other positions within the newspapers. Orlen has attempted to stress that employees left voluntarily, however it has also refused to make details of the severance pay public. Many of the replacements have experience working in the state broadcaster or other pro-PiS media.

Following the ownership change, other journalists have resigned from their posts. In May, the first deputy editor-in-chief of the Polska Times resigned citing the ownership changes. The long serving deputy editor-in-chief and another journalist have left Dziennik Zachodni, while another journalist resigned from Głos Wielkopolski. Meanwhile, articles not welcomed by members of the new Polska Press board have been removed from newspaper’s websites.

Polska Press is one of the country’s largest media companies, owning 20 regional dailies, 120 weekly magazines and 500 online portals across the country.

PiS media control

Analysts and Polish media experts have described the managerial and editorial changes as a conservative coup at the publishing company. At best, experts suggest, soft censorship will pressure newspapers to dampen criticism and slowly encourage reporting favourable to the government. At worst, they could now be deformed into propaganda mouthpieces of the PiS.

Either way, the changes have illustrated concerns raised by media freedom organisations including IPI that Orlen ownership would lead to a purge of critical journalists akin to the takeover of the public television and radio at the start of its first mandate in 2015. Further editorial changes at Polska Press titles are now expected to follow.

This state-led capture of local media mirrors the efforts undertaken by allies of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party in 2016 and 2017 to buy up regional publications, often from foreign owners, as in the case of Polska Press. There too, acquisitions by politically connected owners led to meddling and an exodus of journalists who were dismissed or quit, after which the editorial line was flipped. Virtually all regional media in Hungary are now under the control of the Fidesz party and its allies. Experts have frequently noted that access to independent news in areas outside of Hungary’s largest cities is now heavily limited.

Unlike in Hungary, where government-friendly businessmen were used to snap up media outlets, in Poland the government has instead relied upon the state-controlled oil company headed by a PiS loyalist as its economic engine for buying media.

The takeover of local media in Poland has also been timed for political reasons. In 2023, Polish voters will go to the polls in tightly contested local elections in which PiS is determined to wrestle back control over urban centres. Friendly coverage at Polska Press’s 20 regional dailies and 150 weeklies could provide a valuable campaign tool during the electoral race for shaping public opinion.

On a broader level, Orlen’s acquisition of the publishing house from the German Verlagsgruppe Passau Capital Group is part of PiS’s multi-year efforts to establish greater political control over the private media sector and push foreign capital out of the domestic market, as outlined in a report by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR). Labelled “repolonisation” and framed as an issue of national sovereignty by the government, these efforts are aimed at cementing more indirect control over the media landscape ahead of elections.