The advent of the coalition government of the Law and Justice (PiS) and Self-Defence (Samoobrona) parties and the League of Polish Families (LPR) in late 2005 aggravated relations between officials and the media, except for the religious media, which were supported and favoured by the government.
The ultra-conservative TV station Trwam was given a scoop on 2 February 2006 about the signing of an agreement between conservatives, the extreme right and populists. Only journalists from the media group of Father Tadeusz Rydzyk were given access, sparking outrage among other journalists.
Religion was also the reason behind a €125,000 fine imposed on the TV station Polsat by the state broadcasting council (KRRiT) on 22 March for “harming the reputation” of broadcaster Magda Buczek and offending the feelings of listeners and viewers of her programmes on Radio Maryja and Trwam after a Polsat talk-show guest imitated her voice and called her an “old maid.”
Criticism not tolerated
President Lech Kaczynski and his twin brother Jaroslaw, the prime minister, did not like being criticised and the Warsaw prosecutor took action in July against Peter Kohler, of the German daily Tageszeitung, for writing a satirical article a month earlier about the Kaczynski brothers headed “The new Polish yokels.”
The government reacted furiously and officials likened Tageszeitung to the pro-Nazi German press and demanded that the German government condemn the article. The Polish foreign ministry said on 4 July it would not longer speak to the paper’s Warsaw correspondent, Gabrielle Lesser, who received anonymous threatening phone calls. President Kaczynski called the
article “vile” and “disgusting” on 7 July.
The editor of the monthly Sukces removed a page from 90,000 already-printed copies of the April issue for fear of reprisals about an article there in which a journalist in dispute with the presidential press office (over an article she wrote in February) continued to state her case.
The deteriorating general situation included influential media-outlets inciting the public to racial and religious hatred. A commentator on Radio Maryja (with three million listeners), Stanislaw Michalkiewicz, said in March that “the Jews humiliated Poland internationally by demanding money” for property they left behind in Poland. Xenophobic and anti-Semitic remarks increased on the station without intervention by the KRRiT.
The KRRiT was radically reformed under a December 2005 law and its members reduced from nine to five, two of whom were named by President Kaczynski, who on 6 February appointed a new chairman, Elzbieta Malgorzata Kruk. The constitutional court ruled on 23 March that the appointments were illegal and that the KRRiT was too much under government control.
Editor Andrzej Marek, of the regional weekly Wiesci Polickie, won a four-year battle against a three-month suspended prison sentence for libel handed down in 2002 for an article a year earlier denouncing corruption of an official in the town of Police. Marek was ordered imprisoned on 16 January 2006 but the constitutional court stayed the order and freed him two days later.
But the court refused on 30 October to invalidate article 212 of the criminal code providing for up to a year in prison for defamation. The court recognised the importance of press freedom for democracy but said an individual’s dignity and reputation was more important, even though the clause contravened article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.