Poland: now the good news

By Jessica Jacques

The legal assistance and support offered by the ECPMF to three Polish journalists has produced a positive result. Two journalists, Wojciech Dorosz and Marcin Majchrowski, officially restarted their work at Polish Radio on Thursday 21st September after a settlement was reached in court.

Poland: and now te good news No machine-readable author provided. Mohylek assumed (based on copyright claims)., Logo trojki, CC BY-SA 3.0

Editors Dorosz and Majchrowski lost their positions without notice because they signed the now famous, ’’Letter of the 125,“ calling on the public broadcaster’s bosses to respect the principles of journalistic independence and integrity, as more and more critical journalists were being pushed out of their jobs or resigning in protest at the changes.

Polskie Radio S.A. justified the termination by alleging that the journalists had been exerting psychological pressure on the Polish Radio’s Management Board and that they had used “black PR” and attempted to “destabilise the work of the Board and the entire Polish Radio Corporation” by “publicly harassing the Board” with “demands for mediation.

Freedom of expression

On Monday, August 21st, 2017, a meeting was held at the District Court in the capital city of Warsaw on the case of Majchrowski and Dorosza vs. Polish Radio. The court allowed the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (HFHR) to participate in the proceeding as a non-governmental organisation. When applying to participate in the process, the Foundation pointed out, that the release of journalists from their positions "raises serious doubts from the point of view of protection of freedom of expression, trade union freedom and equal treatment."

The radio station management stated that they were prepared to settle and HFHR negotiated the conditions: Dorosza and Majchrowski settled on the grounds that they could return to work and be remunerated for their period of unemployment.

Dorota Głowacka, Coordinator of the Observatory of Media Freedom in Poland remarked, “I treat this deal as, in a sense, the Polish Radio's admission to the fact that the decision to let the journalists go was groundless and improper. I hope this will be a warning to the radio authorities to use such practices in the future. I would also like the case to give hope to other public media journalists so that they can effectively fight for their rights."

On 28 November 2016 Pawel Sołtys, another Polish Radio journalist had been dismissed on disciplinary grounds. He was able to return to work at the end of July.

Back to work

Sołtys was the Chairman of the Trade Union of Journalists within Poland’s public service radio broadcaster and an employee at Polish Radio Channels Two and Three.

On the HFHR website, the justification for his dismissal was explained. Sołtys had expressed his support for two journalists who had been taken off air and moved to work in the archives of the Radio News Agency. He was part of a group which published black and white photos of themselves with covered mouths, with the „#kogoniesłychać” (“#whoissilenced”) hashtag.

As in the case of Majchrowski and Dorosz, his employer, Polskie Radio S.A., justified the termination by alleging that Mr. Sołtys had been exerting psychological pressure on the Polish Radio’s Management Board, using “black PR” and to try to “destabilise” their work.

Sołtys, in an interview with Deutschlandfunk (German Radio), said, “There is no longer freedom in the public media, I would say, and it’s different from other developed democracies. But press freedom in general: there are independent daily newspapers like “Puls Biznesu”. There are also independent television programmes and Internet portals. 

Journalists carry out their work freely - just not at public service broadcasters.” 

In July 2017 the first hearing for Pawel Sołtys’ case took place, based on the lawsuit prepared by a pro bono lawyer from the HFHR.

Głowacka reported that “quite unexpectedly“, the radio station offered a settlement granting everything the journalist had requested in the lawsuit, including - most importantly - getting his job back and full compensation, Sołtys accepted the settlement and restarted his work at the radio station, Polish Radio 3 (Trójka).

Głowacka said, “Even though it’s not a court’s judgement, it is still a very important development for other journalists who have been dismissed from public media or who still work there and fear dismissal.“

That the radio station was prepared to settle in all three cases is probably a result of an unexpected change at the public radio station in March when Barbara Stanisławczyk, the former Director of the Polish Radio Board, who had dismissed these journalists, was herself suddenly dismissed by the National Media Council. 

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