Criticising the Catholic religion and the pope was still a strong taboo in a country where the law required the broadcasting media to "respect Christian values" (though these values were not clearly defined) and "strengthen the idea of the family". The law still provided prison terms for defamation but the courts had long stopped imposing such sentences.
The government dropped its controversial plan to block narrow ownership of the media on 25 July. The law, drafted by the National Council for Radio and Television (KRRIT) and approved by the government on 19 March, amended the broadcasting law, which already limited foreign shareholding to 33 per cent, to ban companies from owning more than one TV or radio station with a national audience. It also banned press groups from buying TV stations and national radio stations from controlling local stations in towns of more than 100,000 people.
The measure increased the fears of private sector and was seen as a move to rein in the privately-owned Agora group (owner of the country’s biggest daily paper, Gazeta Wyborcza, and with roots in the old democratic opposition to the communists), which was about to take over the privately-owned TV station Polsat.
A new law, more tolerant of narrow media ownership, was being discussed by parliament’s culture and media committee. It was strongly criticised by the Polish Journalists’ Association and the national ombudsman, who threatened to file a formal complaint that the KRRIT was becoming a pressure group instead of defending freedom of expression, the right to information and public interest. The reform would give the KRRIT the power to close a radio or TV station if it considered it a "threat to national culture, good morals or good upbringing."
At the end of the year, Gazeta Wyzborcza editor Adam Michnik accused Lee Rywin, head of the surveillance committee of Canal Plus Polska, of asking him, on behalf of prime minister Leszek Miller, for a kickback of $17.5 million in exchange for the government amending the broadcasting law to allow the paper’s owners, Agora, to buy Polsat.
Pressure and obstruction
The daily paper Trybuna and its publishers Ad Novum were fined a total of 26,400 zlotys (6,600 euros) on 13 May for insulting Pope John Paul II in an article on 26 November 1997 by Zbigniew Wisniewski called "Joannes Paulus dixit," in which he said the pope had spoken like "an unsophisticated country vicar." A priest, Zdzislaw Peszkowski, sued the paper, which had three times apologised in print for the article.
The KRRIT confirmed on 17 July its decision not to renew the broadcasting licences of two popular local radios, Radio Blue in Krakow and Twoje Radio in the southwestern town of Walbrzych. The KRRIT, set up in 1992, issues radio licences for a maximum of seven years, after which the stations must reapply. Radio Blue said it did so within the time limit. It went off the air on 11 October and its frequency was reassigned to Radio Eska, of the ZPR Group, which is close to the government.
Marian Maciejewski, of the daily Gazeta Wyborcza, was sued on 30 August by Lidia Sieradzka, prosecutor in the southern town of Opole, for libelling the judges of the Krzyzki court in the southern town of Wroclaw in a November 2000 article saying the court was inefficient. The journalist faced two years in prison under article 212-2 of the criminal code. By the end of the year, his trial had not yet begun.
However article 213 says there is no libel if what the press reports is true. During the summer, the justice ministry confirmed that the Krzyzki court was not working properly and dismissed one of its main officials.
The Warsaw prosecutor opened a legal enquiry in September into Jerzy Urban, editor of the weekly Nie, after an article in the paper on 15 August, on the eve of the pope’s visit to Poland, called the pontiff "the Vatican’s Brezhnev." He faced three years in prison for "publicly insulting a foreign head of state" under the criminal code’s article 136-3.
Dorota Pardecka, of the weekly Nie, was being prosecuted and faced two years inprison for two articles on 15 and 29 November 2001 in which she quoted from a psychiatric report on Zbigniew Nowak, a populist member of parliament for the southern town of Tarnobrzeg. The examination had been done as part of a trial but had been widely publicised.