The International Federation of Journalists and its regional group the European Federation of Journalists today accused the Polish authorities of attacking the core principles of investigative journalism following a recent court decision to gag two local publications.
In the October issue of a local monthly, Poland Monthly, Preston Smith, the magazine’s editor-in-chief published a 6-month investigative article entitled ‘The Third Man’, detailing a financial scandal involving Poland’s largest national insurance company, PZU S.A.. On 13 October, the second largest daily in Poland, Rzeczpospolita also published a story entitled, ‘Jamrozy and Wieczerzak’s Secret Account - The Anatomy of a Fraud’, an article based on a similar premise to the facts outlined in ‘The Third Man’.
At the beginning of November, Andrzej Perczynski, an international businessman implicated in both stories, opened a civil law suit against both publications for 1 million zlotys (about $250,000), which was followed by a ‘gag order’ on 25 November by the District Court of Warsaw.
“Our colleagues have carried out a detailed inquiry and their conclusions need to be properly dealt with,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “If Andrzej Perczynski is able to refute the matters of fact that have been outlined in this case then he should do so rather than hiding behind bad law with the intention of covering up what has been going on.”
The IFJ says that the tactic of using the courts to prevent public discussion on issues of great public importance is a scandalous way to avoid being held to account. “Cases like this can go on for 2 or 3 years and when they do, people who should be held up to public scrutiny are able to avoid their responsibilities simply by prevarication.”
The IFJ is also concerned that the potential impact of any court fine on a publication like Poland Monthly could be damaging. The publishers say that the court and legal fees related to this trial will put a heavy strain on the magazine.
The IFJ believes that the use of gag orders in this way is a form of intimidation that should not be used in Poland. “Laws like this have no place in a modern democracy. If Poland is going to be a full and confident member of the European Union it must bring its rules about the rights of journalists up to date.”
The IFJ and the EFJ say that this is not the first attempt by the polish authorities to choke the free press in Poland and recalls previous concerns in December 2002 of “political manipulation”, discrimination over public advertising and an attack by the government on the independent newspaper Rzeczpospolita.
The IFJ and the EFJ are calling on the court to rescind the gag order, and for Andrzej Perczynski to drop the civil law suit and to publicly answer the questions raised in both articles.
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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries