Unjustified firing of journalists from Poland’s state broadcaster
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is concerned about the firing of two experienced journalists from Poland’s public broadcaster in mid-January. It follows growing harassment of independent journalists within the state broadcaster in 2019 that culminated in a series of dismissals during an internal restructuring at the state-owned radio.
Dariusz Rosiak, who had worked for Polish radio since 2006, is one of the two latest victims. He learned on 17 January that his contract was not being extended. “I asked for the reason but the radio station did not want to tell me,” he told RSF. The Polish Journalists Association (SDP) reacted immediately, calling for him to be reinstated at once.
The other new victim is Wojciech Majcherek, a very experienced editor at the public TV channel TVP Kultura, which terminated his contract on disciplinary grounds. A total of 59 well-known figures in the world of culture have so far signed a letter to Poland’s public TV boss Jacek Kurski supporting Majcherek, who has said he plans to file a lawsuit over his dismissal.
“The independence of Poland’s media is enshrined in the law but, in practice, it is very relative," RSF editor-in-chief Pauline Adès-Mével said. “Firing experienced journalists whose professionalism has never been disputed violates a democratic society’s rules and threatens press freedom. Employment policy must be based on merit and transparency, not on affinities with ruling party leaders.”
The victims of last year’s growing harassment of journalists within the state broadcaster included Grażyna Bochenek, who was dismissed in June, a few days after she filed a complaint accusing Radio Rzeszów’s president of harassment, discrimination and violating her rights.
A month later, the three leading news departments within the state radio broadcasting service – international, business and sports – were eliminated in a reorganization designed to “improve functioning,” a spokesperson said. In practice, it allow the heads of the service’s individual radio channels to wield closer daily control over content production and what their editors do.
Poland’s ombudsman, Adam Bodnar, sounded the alarm in late July about the apparent intention to fire several journalists, including Ernest Zozuń, Sylwia Zadrożna and Agata Kasprolewicz, under the pretext of carrying out a restructuring. Kasprolewicz had not been reassigned anywhere since the international department’s elimination. No fewer than 77 of her colleagues addressed an open letter to the radio broadcaster’s president calling for her to be given a new position. The ombudsman finally received a reply from the management in January saying the programme director had the right to choose the journalists working for him.
The other two journalists, Zozuń and Zadrożna, were reassigned. Zozuń, who was editor in chief of the international department, spent three months in the archives department, stripped of any influence over programme content. He lost his programme and his current tasks are smaller than before.
Such tactics have been used before. Two journalists, Małgorzata Spór and Anna Zaleśna, suffered the same fate in 2016. In a show of support, their colleagues posted photos of them with their hands over their mouths on social media, along with the word #kogonieslychac, to symbolize the censorship to which they had been subjected.
Press freedom has been under attack in Poland ever since the conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party was elected in 2015. A law adopted in December of that year, over the objections of many international organizations including RSF, gave the ruling party close control of the public media, enabling it to gag them, turn them into propaganda outlets and fire their bosses at will.
These policies have badly hurt the quality of public radio programmes and have helped precipitate Poland's rapid fall in RSF's World Press Freedom Index, in which it is now ranked 59th the out of 180 countries.