A corruption scandal involving the media and the government dominated the media scene in 2003. A journalist was still being prosecuted for criticising the pope, a strong taboo in Poland.
A row over a proposed broadcasting law erupted in December 2002 when Adam Michnik, editor of the country’s biggest daily paper, Gazeta Wyborcza, accused film producer Lew Rywin, head of the monitoring council of Canal Plus Polska, of asking him six months previously for a bribe of 17 million euros for prime minister Leszek Miller and the ruling Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) party. In return the government would amend the broadcasting bill to allow the paper’s owners, the Agora group, to buy the privately-owned TV station Polsat. The bill, aimed at curbing narrow ownership of the radio and TV sector, was strongly criticised by privately-owned media. Parliament launched an enquiry into the accusations and the government withdrew the proposed law on 22 July.
The Catholic Church and its pope remained tricky subjects for the media, with the law requiring "respect for Christian values" (article 18.2). A journalist was being prosecuted for criticising the pope and faced up to three years in prison, since Polish law still provides for prison terms for defamation, contrary to international standards.
A journalist physically attacked
Adam Tuchlinski, a photographer for the Polish edition of the US magazine Newsweek, was attacked on 30 May 2003 by members of the ruling SLD party after taking pictures in front of the party’s Warsaw headquarters of three men named in a corruption scandal - former health minister and SLD chief for the Warsaw region Mariusz Lapinski, his top administrative aide Waldermar Deszczynski and the former head of the state health fund, Aleksander Naumann. Naumann objected to being photographed and insulted Tuchlinski, while Lapinski asked some party members to get rid of the journalist. Two men then roughed him up and tried to seize his film. He fell on the ground but was not hurt and his camera was only slightly damaged. The Warsaw public prosecutor’s office opened an enquiry into the incident on 2 June. Two days later, Naumann, Lapinski and the two attackers were expelled from the party.
Harassment and obstruction
The media reported on 11 March 2003 that Krzystof Jedrzejczak, the boss of Radio Lodz, a regional state-run station in Lodz, had banned a programme about corruption involving the local head of the ruling SLD, Andrzej Peczak. Jedrzejczak, an SLD supporter, said the public radio should not get mixed up in a political party’s internal affairs. But after widespread media protests, the station broadcast the programme, made by Przemyslaw Witkowski and journalists of the daily Gazeta Wyborcza, on 13 March.
The journalists’ union at the public television station TVP released a open letter on 14 March deploring the lack of free expression in the state-run media. The next day, the national broadcasting council, KRRiT, criticised what it called many "irregularities" in the way TVP reported the work of the parliamentary probe into the Rywin corruption scandal involving bribery and a proposed new broadcasting law. The council said journalists were trying to gloss over the part played by the head of TVP, Robert Kwiatkowski.
A appeal court in Lodz convicted freelance TV journalist Henryk Dederko and his producer, Jacek Gwiazda, on 11 April of libelling the US direct-sales domestic products company Amway in a programme called "Welcome to Life." The two had won the case in 1999 but the firm had appealed. The court forbade publication of the reasons for the appeal verdict. At the firm’s request, the court banned the programme, which was scheduled for broadcast two days later on TVP. In another case, Network 21, Amway’s PR subsidiary, is asking for destruction of all copies of the film, which cannot be broadcast while legal action is still going on. The film, which won the top prize at the 1997 Lodz Film Festival, attacks the way the firm operates.
The Warsaw public prosecutor’s office said on 30 September that Jerzy Urban, editor of the satirical weekly Nie, would be tried for "insulting Pope John Paul II as Vatican head of state" in a 15 August 2002 article, on the eve of a papal visit to Poland, headed "Walking sado-masochism" in which he nicknamed him "the Vatican’s Brezhnev" and called him an "impotent old man" who was a "horrific sight" in public.
The prosecutor said Urban had "crossed the legal limits of free speech and violated journalistic ethics" by using "offensive and demeaning" words aimed at "insulting and humiliating" the pope. Urban could be jailed for up to three years for "publicly insulting a foreign head of state" (article 136.3 of the criminal code).