Spanish freelance journalist Pablo González Library

Poland: IPI urges release of Spanish journalist detained near…

Poland: IPI urges release of Spanish journalist detained near Ukraine border

Security services urged to provide justification for arrest. The IPI global network today urged authorities in Poland to immediately secure the release of Spanish freelance journalist Pablo González and to provide more details on the reason for his arrest.

 

González, a Basque journalist specializing in post-Soviet countries who has been covering the war in Ukraine and the resulting humanitarian crisis from close to the border, was arrested by the Polish Security Services at some point overnight on February 27, according to media reports.

Since the war broke out, he had been reporting from the Polish city of Rzeszow as part of his work as a contributor to multiple Spanish news outlets including Público, LaSexta and the Basque publication Gara.

On February 28, his lawyer Gonzalo Boye confirmed on Twitter that his client had been detained. He later confirmed authorities had justified the arrest because González had “carried out actions against the Polish State”. Earlier in February, González was interrogated by Ukrainian security forces, accused of being “pro-Russian” because of his work with Gara and asked to leave the country.

“The arrest of Pablo González by Polish authorities is profoundly concerning”, IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “We call on authorities in Poland to immediately release González and to officially clarify the reason for his detention. Poland must allow all journalists to operate freely on the border with Ukraine.”

“My client, the Spanish journalist Pablo González, has been arrested in Poland for doing his job”, his lawyer said on Monday. “We demand that his physical integrity and his immediate release be guaranteed. Without freedom of the press, there is no democracy”.

According to Público, the journalist contacted them for the last time on Sunday night when he filed an article about people arriving from Ukraine to escape the war. During that conversation, González had said that he was retiring for the night to rest. He was last active on Twitter at 12.13am.

The journalist, who was born in Moscow, has long studied the post-Soviet space and is currently pursuing a doctorate at the University of the Basque Country. He participates in the GeopolitikaZ IT/GI podcast, in which he analyzes international politics in Eastern Europe. Before the war broke out, he travelled to Ukraine to report on rising regional tensions.

The journalist was previously arrested in Ukraine on February 6 while reporting from Donbas for various Spanish media. He was contacted by Ukrainian security services and requested to come to Kyiv to be questioned. After travelling to the capital, González was interrogated for several hours and accused of being “pro-Russian”, according to Spanish reports.

According to those reports, his work with the left-wing Basque newspaper Gara, the successor to the leftist and Basque nationalist newspaper Egin, was cited as the reason for the suspicions. His command of the Russian language and a credit card from Caja Laboral, a Basque credit union, were also cited as reasons for his alleged “pro-Russian” views.

After questioning, González said he was “invited” to leave the country by the security services, though no formal expulsion order was issued by Ukrainian authorities. During this time, he raised his case with the Spanish embassy in Kyiv and contacted the consul general. Público carried out negotiations on his behalf with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

At the same time, several members of his family and friends in Spain were approached by officers from the National Intelligence Center (CNI), Spain’s main intelligence service, who questioned them about his alleged links with Russia. According to Público, some of the agents described Gara as “a pro-ETA media outlet subsidized by Russia”. They also accused the journalist of “passing information to Russia”.

As the invasion of Ukraine began on February 25, González left the country and travelled to Warsaw, from where he headed back to near the border with Ukraine to cover the escalating humanitarian crisis.

Since the arret, his lawyer said he had not been able to communicate directly with his client, who remains in detention. Boye told media he had been informed by Polish authorities that the arrest is linked to the previous interrogation in Ukraine. It is understood the arrest came after a follow-up request from the Ukrainian intelligence services.

The Basque Association of Journalists, Kazetariak, issued a statement demanding his immediate release. Multiple Spanish politicians also called on Polish authorities to release the journalist. Spanish authorities have confirmed they are seeking clarifications about the reasons for the arrest.

This statement by IPI is part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries.

IPI as part of MFRR
Grzegorz Rzeczkowski, Poland Library

Poland: Dismissal of SLAPP-targeted journalist Grzegorz Rzeczkowski sets concerning…

Poland: Dismissal of SLAPP-targeted journalist Grzegorz Rzeczkowski sets concerning precedent

The undersigned partners of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) extend their support to journalist Grzegorz Rzeczkowski who faces four SLAPPs and was recently dismissed by Polityka, one of the major independent weekly magazines in Poland, without a transparent reason.

The MFRR is concerned by the abusive legal actions targeting the journalist for his investigations and that his dismissal may be due to the financial costs to the outlet which these SLAPP lawsuits are accruing. If this is the case, it could send a signal that journalists in Poland who are targeted with SLAPPs for their investigations into sensitive issues will be left to face such lawsuits without the support of their employers and have a chilling effect on press freedom in the country.

Grzegorz Rzeczkowski is a seasoned reporter who investigated the wiretapping scandal that led to major political changes in  Polish politics in 2014. As a result of his coverage on abuse of power issues, the journalist is facing four SLAPPs.

On 19 January Rzeczkowski announced on Twitter that his contract at Polityka had been abruptly terminated and he would be leaving the outlet in April. Rzeczkowski was notified by email about the contract termination and was given a vague explanation of the employer’s decision. Rzeczkowski worked at Polityka for 12 years  and has not received any prior warning that would have indicated the employer’s intentions. In an interview with Wirtualnemedia.pl, Jerzy Baczyński, the editor-in-chief of Polityka was reluctant to disclose the reasons that led up to the dismissal but noted that the decision wasn’t motivated by staff cuts. He went on to say, “we are convinced that a journalist with such experience and achievements will easily position himself in the market”.

Given the four ongoing legal proceedings against Rzeczkowski and Polityka, the journalist is now put in an extremely difficult financial situation. Up until his contract’s termination, all legal fees and costs were covered by the employer. Since Polityka let go of its reporter, it is uncertain whether the outlet will continue to support Rzeczkowski’s legal fees.

Rzeczkowski faces four SLAPPs, both civil and criminal defamation lawsuits. Three of them were filed following the journalist’s coverage on the so-called wiretapping scandal that led to the demise of the government formed by Civil Platform (PO) and paved the way for the Law and Justice (PiS) party’s victory in the presidential and then parliamentary elections in 2015 and 2016, respectively.

Two cases against Rzeczkowski were initiated due to his articles discussing links between Marek Falenta, key figure in the “wiretapping scandal”, and the Russian mafia and secret service. In addition, Rzeczkowski, together with the editor-in-chief and the outlet itself are also sued by Anna Hofer, the State Prosecutor, who was promoted to this position when PiS came to power. In one of his articles, Rzeczkowski claimed that the state prosecutor didn’t investigate the involvement of the people with close ties to PiS in the wiretapping scandal and that she omitted to investigate the Russian influence on the election results. In 2019, the former head of the Military Counterintelligence Service brought a private criminal defamation case against the journalist, following his coverage on career advancement of people close to the former Minister of Defence, Antoni Macierewicz.

In a conversation with ARTICLE 19, Rzeczkowski underscored that the legal costs have already exceeded ten thousand Euros – an amount impossible to cover by himself. Rzeczkowski also mentioned that the SLAPPs against him have caused him great emotional distress and emphasised the importance of having his employer’s financial support and solidarity.

The MFRR expresses concern over the ongoing legal harassment against Rzeczkowski as well as his abrupt dismissal. Despite the lack of clarity to what extent the dismissal might have been motivated by the drawn-out and costly lawsuits, this sets a concerning precedent for the protection of journalists in Poland. SLAPPs are vexatious lawsuits that became an all-too-common tool aimed at silencing independent voices, dissuading them from hard-hitting reporting on critical issues and exhausting their financial resources. If journalists covering controversial yet crucial topics start feeling a legitimate threat and lack of proper support, they may eventually turn to self-censorship or even abandon their investigations. The undersigned organisations stand in solidarity with Grzegorz Rzeczkowski and call upon the media outlet and journalists’ associations in Poland to provide necessary support to the journalist throughout the legal proceedings.

Signed by:

  • ARTICLE 19
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries.

LEX TVN Library

Poland: Media freedom groups urge President Duda to veto…

Poland: Media freedom groups urge President Duda to veto ‘Lex-TVN’

The undersigned international media freedom and journalists groups are writing to urge you to apply a presidential veto to the so-called “Lex-TVN” amendment passed by the Sejm on December 17, which we believe poses a fundamental threat to media freedom and pluralism in Poland. This bill represents a direct attack on the independence of the country’s biggest private broadcaster, U.S-owned TVN, and its news channel TVN24.

Dear Andrzej Duda, President of the Republic of Poland,

 

The undersigned international media freedom and journalists groups are writing to urge you to apply a presidential veto to the so-called “Lex-TVN” amendment passed by the Sejm on December 17, which we believe poses a fundamental threat to media freedom and pluralism in Poland. This bill represents a direct attack on the independence of the country’s biggest private broadcaster, U.S-owned TVN, and its news channel TVN24.

Rather than a sincere effort to protect Poland against hostile foreign media takeovers, our organisations are convinced that this media ownership law has always been about one goal: slicing through TVN’s ownership structure and forcing Discovery to sell a controlling 51% stake, opening the door for government-allied entities to potentially acquire stakes and ultimately engineer a shift in editorial position to one more favourable to the ruling party. Far from a secret, the Law and Justice (PiS) MP responsible for drafting the amendment, Marek Suski, has publicly stated the true intention of the law: obtaining greater influence over TVN’s programming.

Such a clear effort to enact media legislation that pushes out foreign owners is reminiscent of well-documented tactics used by governments in Hungary and Russia to bring independent channels under control via government-friendly entities. While laws restricting foreign media ownership do exist in EU member states, this bill is not a principled and proportionate effort to protect the Polish information landscape. Rather, it is clearly aimed at undermining one particular outlet and is part of a wider effort to “repolonise” the media. As you have previously outlined, any changes to media ownership must be conducted under market principles rather than via heavy-handed government intervention. Lex-TVN represents a clear and politically-motivated effort to strong-arm such changes through legislation and must therefore be opposed.

In addition to undermining fundamental democratic values, the proposed amendment to article 35 of the Broadcasting Act also raises legitimate doubts about its compliance with EU law and will almost certainly lead to a legal challenge from the European Commission. As the Senate has already identified, it is also inconsistent with the Polish Constitution. It also breaches the U.S-Poland Bilateral Investment Treaty, simultaneously undermining Poland’s reputation as a welcome climate for foreign investment and uprooting relations between Poland and its closest ally. That the bill was unexpectedly approved by the Sejm just before the parliamentary break, without prior announcement, and in violation of rules on adequate debate, is also deeply problematic.

The stakes of this decision for media freedom, democracy and the rule of law in Poland are high. Ultimately, your decision about this bill should not be about whether one agrees or disagrees with TVN’s coverage. It should be about the principle of media pluralism and the ability of citizens to access information from a variety of news sources. It should also be about the fundamental right of the media to fulfil its watchdog role and scrutinise those in power. And it should be about ensuring fair market conditions in a media sector free from government interference.

After the Sejm passed the initial bill in August 2021, you outlined your concerns over the law’s detrimental effect on freedom of speech and diplomatic relations. Despite being firmly rejected by the Senate, the bill awaiting your decision remains unchanged in both its form and its ultimate purpose. We therefore urge you to remain true to your word and use your veto power to outright reject this law and safeguard the freedom of the press in Poland.

Signed by:

  • Archiwum Osiatyńskiego / The Wiktor Osiatyński Archive
  • ARTICLE 19
  • Association of European Journalists (AEJ)
  • Civic Network Watchdog Poland (Sieć Obywatelska Watchdog Polska)
  • Coalition for Women in Journalism (CFWIJ)
  • Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (Warsaw, Poland)
  • IFEX
  • International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)
  • Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
  • Public Media Alliance (PMA)
  • Society of Journalists, Warsaw
  • South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)
  • The Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries.

Organizacje na rzecz wolności mediów apelują do Prezydenta Andrzeja Dudy o zawetowanie ustawy Lex TVN

Szanowny Panie Prezydencie Andrzeju Dudo,

 

My, niżej podpisane międzynarodowe organizacje działające na rzecz wolności mediów i dziennikarzy piszą, zwracamy się do Pana Prezydenta z apelem o zastosowanie prezydenckiego weta wobec nowelizacji ustawy medialnej znanej powszechnie jako „lex TVN”, przyjętej przez Sejm 17 grudnia 2021. Naszym zdaniem tworzy ona fundamentalne zagrożenie dla wolności i pluralizmu mediów w Polsce. Ustawa w obecnym kształcie stanowi bezpośredni atak na niezależność TVN największego, należącego do USA prywatnego nadawcy w kraju, i jego kanału informacyjnego TVN24.

 

Nasze organizacje są przekonane, że zmianie ustawy medialnej przyświeca cel zgoła inny niż szczera ochrona polskiego rynku przed wrogimi przejęciami mediów zagranicznych. Mianowicie chodzi o wpłynięcie na strukturę własnościową TVN i wymuszenie na Discovery sprzedaży kontrolnego pakietu 51% udziałów. To stworzyłoby warunki do potencjalnego przejęcia udziałów przez podmioty sprzymierzone z rządem, co w efekcie mogłoby wpłynąć na linię redakcyjną, tak aby była bardziej przychylna władzy. Sam Marek Suski, poseł PiS odpowiedzialny za przygotowanie nowelizacji, w publicznych wypowiedziach nie ukrywał prawdziwej intencji stojącej za zmianą ustawy jaką jest właśnie uzyskanie większego wpływu na przekaz programowy TVN. 

 

Strategia wprowadzania w życie przepisów medialnych, które wypychają z rynku zagranicznych właścicieli, przypomina dobrze znaną taktykę stosowaną przez władze na Węgrzech i w Rosji. Chodzi o kontrolę niezależnych kanałów za pośrednictwem podmiotów przyjaznych rządowi. Chociaż w państwach członkowskich UE istnieją przepisy ograniczające własność mediów zagranicznych, proponowana przez PiS nowelizacja ustawy medialnej nie spełnia warunków do traktowania jej w kategorii proporcjonalnego środka służącego ochronie krajobrazu medialnego w Polsce. Wręcz przeciwnie – ma wyraźnie na celu osłabienie jednego konkretnego podmiotu i wpisuje się w szerszy plan dążenia do tzw. „repolonizacji” mediów w kraju. Wszelkie zmiany dotyczące własności mediów muszą być przeprowadzane na zasadach rynkowych, a nie poprzez arbitralną interwencję rządu. Lex-TVN jest wyraźnym i umotywowanym politycznie działaniem na rzecz usankcjonowania takich zmian w ustawodawstwie czemu należy się przeciwstawić.

 

Proponowana zmiana art. 35 ustawy o radiofonii i telewizji oprócz podważenia podstawowych wartości demokratycznych budzi również uzasadnione wątpliwości co do jej zgodności z prawem UE i istnieje wysokie prawdopodobieństwo, że zostanie zaskarżona przez Komisję Europejską. Jak już wskazał Senat, jest ona również niezgodna z Konstytucją RP. Ponadto narusza również polsko-amerykański dwustronny traktat inwestycyjny, jednocześnie podważając reputację Polski jako przyjaznego klimatu dla inwestycji zagranicznych i zrywając stosunki między Polską a jej najbliższym sojusznikiem. Głęboko problematyczne jest również to, że ustawa została niespodziewanie uchwalona przez Sejm tuż przed przerwą parlamentarną, bez uprzedniej zapowiedzi i z naruszeniem zasad jakimi powinna cechować się debata sejmowa. 

 

Pańska decyzja dotycząca nowelizacji ustawy medialnej ma ogromne znaczenie zarówno dla wolności mediów, jak i demokracji i rządów prawa w Polsce. Dlatego też niezwykle istotnym jest, aby nie była ona podyktowana osobistym stosunkiem do przekazu jaki reprezentuje TVN i tym, czy zgadza się Pan z treściami tam przedstawionymi. Decyzja powinna być podjęta w duchu zasady pluralizmu mediów i możliwości dostępu obywateli do informacji z różnych źródeł wiadomości. W podjęciu tak ważnej decyzji priorytetem powinno być zabezpieczenie fundamentalnego prawa mediów do pełnienia swojej roli strażnika i kontrolowania rządzących. I wreszcie – decyzja musi być w zgodzie z zasadą zapewnieniem uczciwych warunków rynkowych w sektorze medialnym, wolnym od ingerencji rządu.

 

Już po uchwaleniu przez Sejm wstępnej ustawy w sierpniu 2021 roku  wyraził Pan Panie Prezydencie swoje obawy dotyczące szkodliwego wpływu ustawy na wolność słowa i stosunki dyplomatyczne. Pomimo zdecydowanego odrzucenia projektu przez Senat, projekt, który obecnie oczekuje na Pańską decyzję pozostaje niezmieniony zarówno w swojej formie, jak i jeżeli chodzi o cel, któremu przyświeca. Biorąc pod uwagę wszystkie omówione przez nas zagrożenia i obawy, zwracamy się do Pana Panie prezydencie z apelem, by dotrzymał Pan słowa, wykorzystał swoje prawo weta by odrzucić proponowane zmiany i tym samym jasno opowiedział się po stronie wolności mediów w Polsce.

Signed by:

  • Archiwum Osiatyńskiego / The Wiktor Osiatyński Archive
  • ARTICLE 19
  • Association of European Journalists (AEJ)
  • Civic Network Watchdog Poland (Sieć Obywatelska Watchdog Polska)
  • Coalition for Women in Journalism (CFWIJ)
  • Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (Warsaw, Poland)
  • IFEX
  • International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)
  • Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
  • Public Media Alliance (PMA)
  • Society of Journalists, Warsaw
  • South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)
  • The Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries.

Ewa Siedlecka Library

Poland: Journalist’s criminal defamation conviction may impair freedom of…

Poland: Journalist’s criminal defamation conviction may impair freedom of expression

The undersigned partners of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) express deep concern over the recent judgement in the case brought by two judges in Poland in their private capacity against Polityka journalist Ewa Siedlecka, who was convicted of criminal defamation.

Amid the ongoing erosion of media freedom in Poland, we believe that this verdict sets a dangerous precedent which may further facilitate the attempts to muzzle critical media coverage on public officials in the country. The MFRR reiterates that the state should guarantee an enabling working environment for journalists in Poland in which they are able to report on vital, even controversial issues and raise difficult questions without a fear of legal harassment.

On 24 November 2021, the District Court for Warsaw-Śródmieście, convicted Siedlecka, a journalist of Polityka, a weekly news magazine, of criminal defamation in the case brought by two judges, Konrad Wytrykowski and Maciej Nawacki, acting in their private capacity. The court ordered the journalist to pay 5600 zł which consists of a fine, a compensation for both plaintiffs, a payment to the National Treasury and the cost of the trial. As the ruling was delivered by a court of first instance, the journalist may appeal the guilty verdict.

Siedlecka is one of the journalists who tackled in their reporting the issue of a so-called “hate campaign affair” that broke out in Poland in 2019. At that time, a journalistic investigation led by a digital media outlet Onet.pl revealed that the representatives of the Ministry of Justice, including deputy justice minister Lukasz Piebiak, orchestrated and coordinated a hate campaign aimed at several selected judges who openly opposed the controversial judiciary “reforms” pushed through by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS). The “reforms” – in particular, creation of the disciplinary chamber – form an essential part of plans to “overhaul the judiciary” and were found incompatible with EU law by the European Court of Justice. In response to the ruling, Poland indicated its intention to dismantle the disciplinary chamber in the foreseeable future.

Siedlecka referred to the details of the investigations carried out by journalists of Onet.pl in her Twitter and blog posts as well as in three articles published by Polityka. In one of the pieces, Ms. Siedlecka called Wytrykowski and Nawacki, two judges allegedly involved in the hate campaign – “haters”. As a result, Wyrzykowski, a member of the disciplinary chamber of the Supreme Court and Nawacki, of the National Council of the Judiciary, who were both promoted to their current positions due to personnel changes stemming from the controversial judiciary “reforms”, filed a defamation lawsuit against her with the initial demand for 20 thousand złoty compensation, 24 hours of community work, and imprisonment for four months. During the trial, the court dismissed the defence’s motions to find out whether the plaintiffs were members of the aforementioned “hate group” operating in the Ministry. The judge explained that “the trials under Art. 212 of the Penal Code regarding the journalists focus on assessing the credibility of a reporter, not investigating the truth”.

Siedlecka wasn’t present in the court while the judgement was delivered. She did, however, comment on the case and the decision online. “The verdict may be perceived as a restriction of freedom of speech”, she wrote in a short opinion piece published on her blog, noting that she “does not know the details of the justification” of the court’s decision. She calls herself “the first person convicted in the hate campaign affair”.

“I did not insult the plaintiffs, I did not mock them. I simply expressed my opinions. The plaintiffs are high officials, they must thus be prepared – which was repeatedly stated by, inter aliaThe Court of Human Rights – to be a subject of criticism”, Ms. Siedlecka stressed in the comment.

The MFRR remains highly alarmed by the continuing deterioration of media freedom in Poland and multi-pronged attacks backed by the authorities aimed at stamping out critical voices. There is a justified fear that this verdict against Ewa Siedlecka might pave the way for a wider criminalisation of expressing an opinion based on information present in the public space. In addition, legal proceedings against a particular journalist may exert a major chilling effect on the journalistic community as a whole.

We have been observing the increasing use of defamation lawsuits targeting journalists that aim to dissuade them from reporting on a controversial story and drain them both psychologically and financially. We find the recent defamation conviction of Ewa Siedlecka deeply distressing, in particular given the fact that she mostly quoted the existing reporting and not formed accusations on her own. The MFRR stands in solidarity with the journalist and her inalienable right to express opinions, especially in regard to the activity of public officials.

Signed by:

  • ARTICLE 19
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries.

Journalist Katarzyna Wlodkowska Library

Poland: Journalist must not be jailed for refusing to…

Poland: Journalist must not be jailed for refusing to disclose source

MFRR urges district prosecutor to drop legal case. The undersigned partners of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) today call on the District Prosecutor’s Office in the Polish city of Gdansk to drop its legal case against Gazeta Wyborcza reporter Katarzyna Włodkowska and to respect the journalist’s right of source confidentiality protected under the European Convention of Human Rights.

If the prosecutor issues a second demand for Włodkowska to reveal the identity of her source for a report on the investigation into the assassination of the city’s mayor, and she refuses to comply, she could face a prison sentence of up to 30 days. The threat of imprisonment puts undue pressure on Wlodkowska and, beyond her, has a chilling effect on the journalistic community in Poland.

The unjustified demand for the disclosure of Włodkowska’s source stems from an article she published in Gazeta Wyborcza and its supplement Duży Format in January 2020, entitled “Killer of Paweł Adamowicz: I will sit for two years and leave“. The report, published on the first anniversary of the murder of the mayor, published a fragment of a letter written by the alleged killer while in detention in which he said he would face a milder sentencing because he had been assessed as criminally insane.

At the time, the initial investigation by a group of expert psychiatrists had concluded that the man, who is accused of fatally stabbing Adamowicz on stage at a Christmas charity event in December 2019, was mentally ill at the time, meaning he could not face criminal liability. The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has claimed the liberal mayor’s killing was not premeditated and that the murder was instead the act of a mentally deranged individual.

Włodkowska’s reporting, and the information provided by an anonymous source with knowledge of the psychiatric assessment, presented a different version of events: that the assailant was fully conscious of his actions and had been planning the murder since December 2018. The report caused a scandal in Poland and led to significant media attention and criticism of the government. Since then, additional assessments have deemed the defendant mentally fit enough to stand trial and have suggested that his drive to murder Adamowicz may have been fuelled by reporting by the government-controlled state broadcaster, Telewizja Polska.

Following publication of the article, the Gdańsk prosecutor’s office initiated an investigation and Włodkowska was questioned. She declined to disclose her source, who believes their safety would be jeopardised if they were identified. After multiple failed attempts to pressure the journalist into revealing her contact, the prosecutor appealed to a court to try and force the disclosure. In January 2021, the Gdańsk district court sided with the prosecutor and ordered her to reveal the source. After multiple appeals, the verdict was upheld by the Court of Appeal in Gdańsk on 15 October.

Two weeks later, the District Prosecutor’s Office again interrogated Włodkowska about the source. With the backing of her newspaper, she again refused to reveal the source’s identity, citing journalistic confidentiality. On 5 November, she was ordered to pay a fine of PLN 500 (€108), which she rejected. An appeal is currently underway. If the prosecutor again orders her to reveal the source, and she refuses for a second time, under the Polish criminal code she could be fined again and/or jailed for up to 30 days.

If this happens, Poland could become the only EU member state to have a journalist in prison for doing their job. The protection and confidentiality of journalists‘ sources is a fundamental element of press freedom. It allows the media to report on matters of public interest without fearing that confidential sources or whistleblowers will face retaliation, and helps ensure that people with information feel comfortable approaching reporters. It is also a right protected under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and repeatedly recognised by the Council of Europe and the OSCE. Exceptions to this rule are extremely rare and European jurisprudence is clear: such disclosure can only be justified if there is an overriding public interest for the source’s identity to be revealed.

Our firm assessment is that this case comes nowhere near the threshold required to force the disclosure of a journalistic source. Rather, this prosecution appears aimed at punishing a journalist working for the country’s biggest critical newspaper over a story which undermined the prosecutor’s office and damaged the credibility of the state’s probe into Paweł Adamowicz’s murder. If Włodkowska is jailed, it would have a chilling effect on the country’s entire journalistic community and lead to a further deterioration in Poland’s standing on the freedom of the media. We urge the district prosecutor to drop the legal case immediately.

Our organisations stand in solidarity with Katarzyna Włodkowska. If she is arrested for upholding basic journalistic ethics and refuses to disclose her source, we stand ready to support Gazeta Wyborcza with further legal appeals, including taking the case to the European Court of Human Rights. In the meantime, we urge international human rights bodies and the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights to intervene immediately to ensure Włodkowska is not jailed for doing her job.

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)

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries.

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Poland: Journalists must be allowed access to Belarus border

Poland: Journalists must be allowed access to Belarus border

Reporting crews facing increasing intimidation by border guards. The undersigned partners of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) today call on the Polish government to respect and facilitate the free flow of information by allowing journalists access to the border with Belarus to report on the humanitarian situation. We also urge Polish police and military personnel to refrain from arbitrary detentions and intimidation of media workers working in the area around the restricted zone.

Since early September, journalists have been unable to report from inside a three-kilometre-wide stretch of land along the Belarusian border placed under a state of emergency. The measure limits the ability of journalists and aid workers to enter the restricted area and prohibits the taking of photographs or video footage that shows the border or its infrastructure. Those convicted of violating the state of emergency can face a prison sentence of up to 30 days or a fine of up to 5,000 Polish złoty.

Concerns about the lack of information and transparency about what is happening within the restricted areas escalated in November as thousands of migrants and asylum seekers attempted to enter Polish territory via Belarus, sparking a geopolitical dispute that Polish and EU leaders have accused authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko of orchestrating in retaliation for Western sanctions.

The disproportionate restrictions have severely limited the ability of journalists and media organisations from Poland and around the world to cover this dire human rights situation and ensure adequate protection is given to those stranded in inhumane conditions. The state of emergency is also resulting in the criminalisation of journalists trying to report on a matter of significant public interest. Such restrictions on media freedom within a member state of the European Union are unprecedented.

Earlier last week, two journalists from RT France were detained by police near the city of Usnarz Gorny for allegedly violating the state of emergency. A police spokesperson said that the two French nationals, reporter David Khalifa and cameraman Jordi Demory, were detained for working without a permit inside the restricted zone. They were interrogated at a police station and ordered to pay a fine.

In late September, three journalists from French-German broadcaster ARTE TV were arrested, held in a cell overnight and then taken to court the next day in handcuffs to face charges of violating the state of emergency. They were released without a fine. Earlier in September, Onet journalist Bartłomiej Bublewicz and his camera operator faced criminal charges from police for violating the same rules due to their reporting.

In the last week, even those reporting from outside the restricted zone have faced arbitrary detention and intimidation from police and military personnel. On 16 November, three photojournalists, Maciek Nabrdalik, Maciej Moskwa and Martin Divisekwere, had been taking photos at a temporary army base outside the zone when they were detained by soldiers in the Polish Army. They were aggressively pulled from the car and handcuffed for over an hour. The guards searched their car and memory cards on their cameras, violating journalistic privacy. The trio were later released without charge.

On 14 November, a reporting team from the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) was pulled over outside the zone near a checkpoint in Czeremcha and briefly detained by police and border guards, who demanded the unique identifier of their mobile phones, which can be used to track the device. When reporter Claudia Ciobanu and photojournalist Jaap Arriens questioned the legal basis of the demand, the officers said they were suspected of stealing the phones. The guards also falsely claimed the emergency zone had been extended to where the journalists were at that time.

These acts of intimidation and restrictions mean journalists are facing major barriers in verifying information from the border. Allegations of rights abuses remain extremely difficult to either verify or debunk, including claims of illegal pushbacks by Polish border guards. With media barred, the only snippets of news and images from the barbed wire border come from Belarusian and Polish authorities’ social media posts. The result of this information blackout is that disinformation is thriving and facts are hard to come by, meaning a severe humanitarian crisis, likely involving serious human rights violations, is going unreported.

Despite protests by Polish media and rights groups, the state of emergency remains in place. We find it hard to avoid the conclusion that part of this decision by Polish authorities has been to intentionally keep the media from documenting the scale and nature of the crisis and shielding itself and border security services from scrutiny. The free and uninterrupted flow of information at the border is vital. We therefore join the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, in urging the Polish authorities to immediately allow journalists to re-enter the border zone.

Signed by:

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

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries.

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Poland: Access to public information must not be constrained

Poland: Access to public information must not be constrained

The undersigned partners of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) are highly concerned about new possible restrictions on the right to information in Poland that could further erode press freedom in the country. On 17 November 2021, the Constitutional Tribunal will hold a hearing on the constitutionality of core provisions of the bill that regulates access to public information.

The right to information is a vital right of the public for holding governments to account and vital to the work of journalists who investigate abuse of power. We believe that imposing extensive constraints on existing legislation would undermine public transparency and thereby impede media outlets from duly fulfilling their role of watchdogs.

On 16 February 2021, the First President of the Supreme Court, Małgorzata Manowska submitted an application to Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal requesting that several essential provisions of the Act of 6 September 2001 on Access to Public Information (AAPI) be ruled as inconsistent with the respective articles of the Polish constitution. Her statement consists of six allegations concerning the elementary provisions of the AAPI.

The First President argues that several core provisions of the AAPI lack clarity and precision and contravene the right to privacy and to the protection of personal data. Małgorzata Manowska requested to find certain articles of the bill unconstitutional as they allegedly do not unequivocally regulate the relationship between them and the respected provisions on access or limitation on access to data written in the Constitution and the other legal acts.

This is not the first attempt to constrain access to public information in Poland. Małgorzata Gersdorf, Manowska’s predecessor, also sought to find certain provisions of the AAPI unconstitutional, although in a much narrower scope. In an interview with Gazeta Wyborcza, Mirosław Wróblewski, attorney at law from the Polish Ombudsman’s office, notes that his office believes that the law in force adequately balances the public and private interests, including the right to privacy. In Mr. Wróblewski’s opinion, voiding the aforementioned provision would damage the foundation of the law on access to public information in Poland: “It would not be clear what to share and who is supposed to share anything”, he stresses.

If the Constitutional Tribunal rules in favour of Manowska’s claim it may greatly impair the possibility, let alone efficiency of monitoring and controlling the activities of state institutions or state-owned enterprises. This may lead to a situation in which solely public officials (not only high-ranking politicians but all of the entities that have public funds at their disposal) arbitrarily decide which information may be disclosed. Hence, the transparency of public life would be seriously damaged. Wróblewski notes that the request of the First President could violate the right to freedom of speech guaranteed in the Constitution and directly affect press freedom in the country. The MFRR finds such a scenario dangerous as it would deprive journalists of their basic right of using the official route to obtain information on public institutions or public spending. The checks and balances mechanism that enables civil society to have control over the activities of state institutions may thus be disrupted.

Contesting the key elements of Polish legislation on access to public information would violate international law and standards, including Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as elucidated by the Human Rights Committee in its General Comment No. 34, and  Council of Europe standards on right to information, in particular those specified in Recommendation Rec(2002)2 on access to official documents, as well as in the recently entered into force Tromso Convention.

The MFRR is monitoring the ongoing erosion of media freedom in Poland with great concern. The government continues to wage a multi-pronged attack on independent media to muzzle critical reporting and to discredit journalists by fostering a hostile working environment. These potentially grave restrictions of access to information would blaze the trail to blatant lack of accountability of public officials. We urge the Government to ensure this scenario will not materialise and reiterate how vital unrestrained access to information is for democracy and press freedom. If difficult questions are asked by citizens or journalists, public institutions should answer in a transparent manner rather than change the law as a remedy to avoid similar situations in the future. Journalists must be able to conduct their investigations and raise critical issues freely in order to fulfil their role of a primal, unbiased source of information for civil society.

Signed by:

  • ARTICLE 19
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries.

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Poland: PiS accelerates repolonization drive with passing of ‘Lex…

Poland: PiS accelerates repolonization drive with passing of ‘Lex TVN’

IPI urges Senate and president to reject amendment to media ownership law that targets critical broadcaster.

The IPI global network today expressed deep concern over the passing by the Polish parliament of an amendment to broadcast media law which threatens the independence of the country’s largest private television broadcaster, TVN. IPI urges stronger action by the U.S and European Commission to defend media freedom.

On August 11, lawmakers in the Sejm, the lower house of parliament, voted by a majority of 228 to 216 to approve the so-called “lex TVN” bill, with 10 abstentions. The amendment to broadcasting rules is aimed at forcing U.S.-owned Discovery to sell its controlling stake in TVN, whose influential all-news channel TVN24 and flagship evening news program have long held a critical editorial stance toward the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party.

“The passing of this anti-TVN law by the Sejm is a significant step forward in the ruling party’s multi-year effort to muzzle one of its biggest media critics and the most disturbing attack yet on independent media in Poland”, said IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen. “This law has always been about one goal: slicing through TVN’s ownership structure, opening the door to government-allied entities to acquire stakes, and ultimately engineering a shift in editorial position to one more favourable to PiS. These calculated efforts to push out foreign capital and ‘repolonize’ the media landscape ahead of legislative elections are right out of the Fidesz playbook in Hungary. This is media capture in action.

“Despite the setback last night, this fight is far from over. We urge the Senate to firmly reject this law in its current form. In this event, lawmakers in the Sejm must then put party politics and personal interests aside and vote for the good of Poland’s democracy. If the Sejm again votes to pass the amendment, the responsibility to veto will ultimately fall on Polish President Andrzej Duda. The stakes are high: if passed, this law would simultaneously shred Poland’s reputation as a welcome climate for foreign investment and deliver another serious blow to media pluralism and media independence.

“In the meantime, we urge the U.S. State Department to double diplomatic efforts to oppose this bill and defend TVN’s independence. Both U.S. interests and values are threatened. The European Commission also cannot stand idly by as a main source of independent news and information for millions of Poles is brought to heel by PiS. Formulaic statements by EU officials are not enough: words must be followed by concrete action to engage with Warsaw. If TVN and TVN24 are muzzled, it would be a devastating blow for media pluralism and a clear signal that no private media in Poland is safe from PiS’s interference.”

Dramatic day in Sejm

The passing of the law followed a dramatic day in the Sejm. After a heated initial debate, MPs voted to refer the draft amendment back to the Parliamentary Committee on Culture and Media to consider new proposed amendments, which would have protected U.S. investment in TVN. The Committee, which is controlled by lawmakers from PiS and its allies, swiftly rejected the amendments proposed by opposition parties.

With the bill returned to the lower house, debate resumed on the floor while PiS politicians ramped up negotiations behind the scenes to secure the required majority. As the atmosphere became more tense, a proposal to postpone the session until September was passed by a slim majority of MPs. Protesters gathered outside parliament began to celebrate and opposition lawmakers welcomed the adjournment as a victory. Jubilation soon turned to dismay, however, as inside the Sejm PiS lawmakers demanded that the vote be repeated.

Following a long break, the speaker, Elzbieta Witek, a PiS member, returned to the chamber and ordered that parliament be reconvened for a second vote on the motion, explaining that she had forgotten to specify the date of the next session. Despite outrage and accusations of foul play from opposition lawmakers, the adjournment vote was held again and the motion was rejected by 229 to 225, after MPs from the Kukiz’15 party switched sides. With scenes inside the chamber became increasingly chaotic, the original vote on lex TVN was held and PiS succeeded in securing the required majority.

The vote also capped a dramatic few days in Polish politics, during which the PiS-led majority government suffered a major setback after Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki dismissed the leader of a junior coalition partner, Agreement, from the government over his vocal criticism of the media law. In the wake of the vote, more than 800 journalists in Poland signed a statement in defence of TVN’s independence and protests against the law were held in more than 80 towns and cities across the country.

The amendment would prevent non-European owners from having controlling stakes in Polish media companies. As U.S.-based Discovery owns TVN through a subsidiary registered in the Netherlands, it would fall foul of the new regulations and could be faced with selling 51 percent of its stake in TVN, which is valued at around $1 billion. If it did not, channels such as TVN24 could be stripped of their media licenses. The law comes as TVN24 awaits a decision on the renewal of its current 10-year media license, which expires in September.

Ahead of the vote, IPI, the partner organizations of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) and other leading press freedom groups wrote to members of the Sejm urging them to oppose the draft law.

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Poland: open letter to the Sejm in ‘lex TVN’…

Poland: open letter to the Sejm in ‘lex TVN’ matter

To: All Members of the Sejm of the Republic of Poland

Dear honourable members of the Sejm:

The undersigned international press freedom and journalism organisations, members of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), are writing to ask you to urgently oppose the draft law that would restrict media ownership in Poland by investors based in countries outside the European Economic Area (EEA).

As you know, this bill has been termed the ‘lex TVN’ because it would directly affect TVN, Poland’s largest private television broadcaster, which is owned by the U.S. company Discovery through a subsidiary. We are extremely concerned that this bill is a targeted effort to force Discovery to sell TVN and thereby achieve a shift in TVN’s editorial line.

The stakes here are high. Our organizations have previously expressed serious concern over the deteriorating condition of media pluralism in Poland, which has already been deeply compromised at the regional level through the sale of Polska Press to PKN Orlen. Still, at the national level, Poland has thus far managed to retain a degree of media pluralism and independence, both of which are essential conditions for democracy and rule of law.

However, the approval of the ‘lex TVN’ would change that. The effort to bring TVN’s nationwide channels under control is a dramatic attack on media pluralism. If successful, it would accelerate media capture conditions similar to those in Hungary or Russia, where the vast majority of mainstream media is controlled by the state, directly or indirectly, and where cronyism is rife. It would also seriously damage foreign investors’ trust in fair market competition and the rule of law in Poland.

Indeed, this proposed law has already generated international alarm. In particular, top U.S. officials, including the heads of the Foreign Relations Committee of the U.S. Senate, have expressed grave concern over the effort to rein in TVN.

The decision to vote against this bill should not be about whether one agrees or disagrees with TVN’s coverage. It is about the core principles that are the foundation of Polish democracy. It is about the right of Polish citizens to receive information from different and diverse sources. It is about the fundamental right of the media to analyse and scrutinize the actions of those in power. And it is about ensuring fair market conditions in the media sector, in particular to protect Poland’s reputation as a trustworthy country for investment.

Laws restricting foreign ownership of the media are not necessarily problematic, and do exist in other EU member states. This measure, however, does not appear to be a principled effort to protect the Polish information landscape. Rather, it is clearly aimed at one particular media outlet, owned by a company based in the U.S., a long-time Polish ally, and is being rushed through the legislative process.

Your voice is critical in this urgent matter. If Poland is to remain a society where news and policies can be freely debated within the marketplace of ideas, it is essential that the ‘lex TVN’ be stopped. We therefore urge you to oppose this bill in its current form.

Signed by:

  • Article 19
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT)
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Poland: Stronger U.S. and EU action required over ‘lex…

Poland: Stronger U.S. and EU action required over ‘lex TVN’

The Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) today calls for swift and robust action by the European Union and U.S. to defend media freedom in Poland and counter the serious attack on the independence of the country’s largest private television channel, TVN, by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party.

Our organisations believe that the so-called “lex TVN” and the ongoing deadlock over the renewal of the license for its 24-hour news channel TVN24 are part of an increasingly systematic effort by PiS to erode critical journalism by engineering ownership changes of critical independent media ahead of upcoming parliamentary elections.

On 7 July, PiS MPs submitted a draft bill to parliament which would bar companies which are majority-owned by entities from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) from owning more than a 49% stake in Polish broadcasters. It is clear this bill is aimed directly at the ownership structure of U.S.-owned TVN and TVN24, which broadcast the country’s most-watched news program, Fakty, and have long held a critical editorial stance towards PiS.

As U.S.-based Discovery owns 100% of TVN through a subsidiary registered in the Netherlands, it would be forced to sell 51% of its $1 billion stake to comply with the new regulations. This would open the door for state-linked investors to purchase the shares, muzzling the country’s most influential critical broadcaster and increasing the government’s level of control over the media market. A similar pattern has already been seen in the purchase of regional publisher Polska Press by Poland’s state-controlled oil company.

We are increasingly concerned that, despite warnings by officials at the U.S. State Department and top EU officials, PiS’s leadership appears determined to push ahead with its plans. On 27 July, the draft bill was adopted by the parliamentary committee for culture and media, paving the way for a vote in the Sejm in mid-August. Given the speed with which PiS are driving the bill through parliament, diplomatic efforts must be immediately intensified to send a clear signal to the ruling party that the EU and U.S. are serious about defending independent journalism in Poland with all available tools.

Top officials in Washington must stress unequivocally that the passing of this bill is an attack on independent media, as well as on American investments in Poland, and would significantly damage U.S.-Polish relations and cooperation in a range of fields.

At the same time, Poland’s broadcast media regulator, the National Broadcasting Council (KRRiT), remains in deadlock over the renewal of TVN24’s 10-year media license, which expires on September 26. Despite applying for the permit 18 months ago, KRRiT’s five-member panel remains divided on the case, increasing uncertainty for TVN and leading to accusations the decision is being deliberately delayed. Recently, the head of the broadcast regulator, a former PiS member, alleged that TVN24 was in violation of foreign ownership rules, ramping up the pressure further.

Given PiS’s long hostility towards TVN and the fact that the broadcaster has had no issues in renewing licenses of several of its other Polish channels, any decision by the government-dominated KRRiT to reject TVN24’s license renewal at the current time should be considered deeply discriminatory and politically motivated. In this event, the European Commission should immediately consider launching infringement proceedings against Poland over the violation of EU law on the fair and non-discriminatory allocation of broadcast licenses.

Moving forward, our organisations urge Polish MPs – especially those in PiS’s coalition parties in the United Right – to vote to reject this bill during the next hearing. Moreover, while the open letter by Polish journalists in defence of TVN is an important initiative, it is crucial that journalists from across Poland’s media spectrum sign and speak in a unified voice. A political attack on one media outlet should be opposed as an attack on all. Ultimately, if TVN can fall to PiS meddling then no media outlet is safe. Time is running out.

Signed by:

  • ARTICLE 19
  • Committee to Protect Journalists
    European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
    International Press Institute (IPI)
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)
  • Reporters Without Borders (RSF)