December 18, 2019

Poland : polish court quashes order censoring local newspaper

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) welcomes a Polish court’s decision to lift a much-criticized order banning a local weekly in the southeastern town of Zamość from covering alleged irregularities in a municipal company. The decision came after 30 local newspaper publishers campaigned for the ban to be lifted.

“Censorship has come to an end in the Polish town of Zamość,” the newspaper Tygodnik Zamojski announced on its website after the court, under pressure, ruled in favour of editor in chief Michał Kamiński’s appeal and allowed him to resume publishing stories about the company, Przedsiębiorstwo Gospodarki Komunalnej (PGK).


When the court issued its original order on 4 November, banning the newspaper from publishing any further stories about PGK and ordering it to remove previous stories about PGK from its website, the newspaper immediately received statements of support from Polish media associations. A few days later they were joined by more than 30 newpapers affiliated to the Association of Local Newspapers, who used the association’s website to republish five of the articles that Tygodnik Zamojski’s site had been forced to delete.


In a statement about their decision, the publishers said local media outlets play a very important role for local government in Poland. “They describe, they report, but above all they exercise control and accountability functions for local leadership entities,” the statement said, adding: “Censorship will not be tolerated.” The Zamość court ruling overturning the ban was issued a few hours later.


“We welcome this judicial U-turn offering hope for media freedom in Poland after four years of persecution,” said Pauline Adès-Mevel, the head of RSF’s European Union and Balkans desk. “We must also salute the unprecedented campaign by the Polish media in support of an arbitrarily censored newspaper, which resulted in this important decision.”


The wrangle began in 2018, when Tygodnik Zamojski published a series of articles on its site exposing irregularities in PGK’s contract for the construction of a solar park in Zamość and other aspects of PGK’s operations.Thereafter, anything the newspaper published about PGK was met with demands for corrections or deletion until, in September, PGK filed a complaint with the local court and the court responded with its publication ban under articles 755 and 2 of Poland’s civil code on the grounds that the newspaper’s reporting was liable to defame PGK.


The court’s decision to lift the ban, which is a step in the right direction, comes just one month after a Warsaw court ruled in favour of Dorota Nygren, a journalist with Polish state radio who had been sanctioned for refusing to broadcast a discriminatory report. The state radio broadcaster violated the equal treatment principle, the court found.


Poland is ranked 59th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index, after falling 31 places in the past four years.