The criminalisation of press offences, the government’s defiance of the media and the need for delicate handling of the country’s Communist past all affected press freedom in 2007.
The year began with the threat of imprisonment for journalist Andrzej Marek, editor of the regional weekly Wiesci Polickie, for supposed libel in a 2001 article about corruption. He had been given a three-month prison sentence in 2002 that was suspended in 2003 if he agreed to apologise. He refused and asked the constitutional court to rule on the legality of the clause of the law used to convict him. The court declined to rule in November 2006 but international pressure produced a presidential pardon just before he was due to be jailed in June 2007 in the northwestern city of Szczecin.
This victory did not change the legal restraints on press freedom, notably article 212.2 of the criminal law which allows prisons terms for journalists. The government refused in October 2006 to repeal the article, which punishes “public humiliation” with up to two years in prison. The constitutional court said a person’s dignity and honour were more important than freedom of expression.
Jacek Brzuszkiewicz, of the daily Gazeta Wyborcza, was given a six-month suspended prison sentence in July 2007 and fined 5,000 zlotys (€1,300) for libelling a Lublin administrative court judge in a series of articles in 2003 criticising his handling of a case involving high-rise tenants and the owner of a nearby laundry using toxic products. The journalist said he hoped his disproportionate punishment would make people aware of the need to bring the country’s press law up to European standards.
Editor Tomasz Sakiewicz of the national weekly Gazeta Polska and his deputy Katarzyna Hejke were ordered detained for two days before their 14 December trial for libelling the privately-owned TV station TVN, to ensure they turned up. They had reported in 2006 that a TVN manager, Milan Subotic, had collaborated with the Communist secret police. The suit was withdrawn at the last minute and they were not detained.
The decommunisation law, presented as one of the big achievements of the rule of Lech and Jaroslav Kaczynski, and concerning more than 700,000 people, was a serious threat to press freedom.
The law came into effect on 15 March and required journalists to say, on pain of losing their job and being banned for working for 10 years, whether or not they had collaborated with the Communist-era secret police. Not answering the question was punished more heavily than collaboration itself. The law was a violation of basic rights because it would have created, with state blessing, a category of people without freedom of expression and drew many protests in Poland and abroad. The constitutional court in May struck down several of its clauses, including those involving journalists, school principals and university rectors.
Relations between the government and journalists remained tense, especially after press revelations in August of former interior minister Janusz Kaczmarek’s testimony to a parliamentary commission on the security services, accusing the then justice minister Zbigniew Ziobro and prime minister Jaroslav Kaczynski of tapping the phones of journalists critical of the government. Kaczmarek said the security services were ordered to look for compromising material about the owners of the major privately-owned TV stations Polsat and TVN and Gazeta Wyborcza.