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Poland13 May 2005

Live radio debate on pope leads to suspension of editor

Reporters Without Borders expressed concern after a radio editor was suspended by the management of state-run Polskie Radio after staging a live radio debate in which some young listeners criticised the late Pope John Paul II.

Pawel Sito, editor of one of its stations, Radio BIS, was sanctioned on 12 May as a result of a two-hour debate broadcast on 9 April, a week after the pope’s death, from a Warsaw political debating club "Madame" frequented by militant feminists, homosexuals and artists.

Young Catholics and atheists took part in the debate entitled "New unification", in an atmosphere that was "very respectful towards the pope", said Sito, who considered the debate was a "democratic necessity".

Some speakers however stressed that Jean Paul II was not the highest authority as far as they were concerned.

Reporters Without Borders pointed out that the dismissal of Sito, which was still being discussed within the broadcast company, was likely to strengthen self-censorship in Poland.

"Free expression in Poland, which has been part of the European Union since Mai 2004, should respond to European legal standards. There should not be any exception for subjects considered sensitive like the late Pope John Paul II, of Polish origin," the worldwide press freedom organisation said.

The manager of "Madame", Krystian Legierski, said the Pawel Sito programme had presented the first real chance to talk freely about the pope in the context of free public debate, since there had been "massive media conformity" surrounding the dying pope.

Pawel Sito had organised a series of programmes entitled, "The energy of young people for the pope", allowing people to speak openly about their emotions on the death of John Paul II.

Leftist national daily Trybuna said that the forthrightness voiced on the radio, which may have displeased the management, nevertheless led to a tripling in listening figures during the month. These same figures were quoted by the centre-right Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland’s biggest daily newspaper.

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