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Poland21 October 2008

President Kaczynski threatens Polish TV reporter during EU summit

Reporters Without Borders condemns the threats uttered by Polish President Lech Kaczynski in an outburst against TVN24 star reporter Monika Olejnik after she interviewed him for the station’s “Dot on the I” programme during the European Union summit in Brussels on 15 October.

Olejnik questioned Kaczynski about his decision to attend the summit despite the opposition of his prime minister, Donald Tusk. She also asked him about former President Lech Walesa’s candidacy to be a member of a “Wise Men” group that is to advise the EU about its future. Kaczynski opposed it, accusing Walesa of repeatedly insulting his twin brother, former Prime Minister Jaros Law Kaczynski, who heads their populist Law and Justice party (PiS).

At the end of the programme, Kaczynski rounded on Olejnik and, in the presence of several witnesses, shouted : “I am going to deal with you, I am going to have you crushed. You are on my short-list and you are going to regret it. The special services agents and the Walters [a reference to one of the TV station’s bosses] will not manage to defend you.” He also suggested that Olejnik worked for the special services under the code-name of “Stokrotka” (Daisy).

TVN24 spokesman Karol Smolag said of the outburst : “This is an unprecedented event that is very disturbing for press freedom, the basis of democracy.” TVN24 has lodged a complaint against President Kaczynski before Poland’s Higher Council for Broadcasting (KRRiT).

Reporters Without Borders said : “We firmly condemn this harassment of Monika Olejnik. Lech Kaczynski’s remarks are not worthy of a president, especially the president of a European Union member country. Europe is supposed to set an example in respect for press freedom, starting with responsible behaviour by its leaders.”

Olejnik accepted the apology that Kaczynski gave her when he phoned her later the same day. Adam Bielan, European Parliament vice-president and spokesman of Kaczynski’s party attributed his comments to a temporary irritation exacerbated by the protocol problems he had encountered during the summit.

He also said : “The expression ‘my short-list’ was just a virtual list of people that President Lech Kaczynski does not like. It is not a concrete list.”

The incident had been preceded by tension between the Kaczynski twins and both TVN24 and the newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, which they regard as being part of a network of former members of the communist-era political police and post-communist special services that, in their view, poses a serious threat to Poland.

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