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Poland10 October 2008

Constitutional court confirms law punishing media publishing unauthorised articles

Reporters Without Borders today strongly condemned a Constitutional Court ruling on 29 September 2008, upholding the constitutionality of Article 14 of the 1984 press code allowing for fines on media publishing articles not checked and approved by those quoted in them.

The decision follows a case in which Jerzy Wizerkaniuk, editor of the weekly Gazeta Koscianska, was convicted under Article 14, for publishing an interview in February 2003 with parliamentary deputy Tadeusz Myler of the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), based on an audio tape of an interview he gave the paper after which the deputy sued Wizerkaniuk for defamation.

In its judgement, the Constitutional Court specified that Article 14 offers “the guarantee of the rigour and truth of public debate” and “reflects the right to news that is precise, concrete and not misleading”.

“We are aghast at the decision taken by the Constitutional Court. This ruling is unworthy of a member state of the European Union and destroys all editorial independence of the media”, Reporters Without Borders said.

“The checking of an article before it appears should be left to the free judgement of journalists and the media. In recognising the constitutionality of Article 14, the court institutes a censorship worthy of the most repressive regimes. This kind of retrograde and anachronistic legislation is totally incompatible with European standards”, the organisation added.

“According to the court, this authorisation protects the reader from manipulation, while the permission is often a manipulation. It will be possible in Poland from now on to punish someone who publishes the truth”, Jerzy Wizerkaniuk said after the verdict was announced.

The journalist has decided to take the case to the European Court in Strasbourg, which has said it can receive his complaint.

One of the judges at the Constitutional Court, Andrzej Rzeplinski, distanced himself from the ruling. In an interview with journalists on Gazeta Wyborcza, Andrzej Rzeplinski said “[Late iconoclastic journalist, Oriana] Fallaci could not publish her interviews with Khomeini or Arafat here”.

A few days previously, on 19 September 2008, the Constitutional Court annulled Article 132a of the criminal code that provided for prison sentences of up to three years, for any one who publicly defamed “the Polish nation”, by accusing it of responsibility for war crimes committed by the Communists or the Nazis. This article was brought in on 15 March 2007, under the populist right wing PiS government. The decision will again give parliament the opportunity to vote on it again.

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