MFRR condemns defamation lawsuit against Gazeta Wyborcza Editor-in-Chief by Polish Justice Minister

Press-ECPMF

24 March 2021

No Comments

mfrr logo

The partners of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) today strongly condemn the civil defamation lawsuit launched against the editor-in-chief of Poland’s biggest daily newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza by the serving Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro.

Our organisations consider this to be yet another example of the Justice Ministry’s use of lawsuits as a tool for pressuring and financially draining the newspaper, which is one of the staunchest critics of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS).

We call directly on the Minister, who is also the Prosecutor-General of Poland, to immediately withdraw the lawsuit and refrain from abusing the civil and criminal code as part of the administration’s broader attack on independent and critical media.

We note that this lawsuit is the latest in a string of 60 civil and criminal cases brought against Gazeta Wyborcza over the last few years – many of which have been initiated by PiS politicians including party leader Jarosław Kaczyński. The scale of this coordinated legal harassment of a critical newspaper is unique within the EU.

As the MFRR concluded in a report following our recent press freedom mission to Poland, the use of Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs) against critical media outlets by PiS figures and their allies in different institutions has reached unprecedented levels.

In a diversification of this pressure, many of these lawsuits are brought by government ministries, state-owned companies, businesspeople close to the ruling party, and even the tax-payer funded public broadcaster Telewizja Polska, with the number of lawsuits only continuing to increase further.

Ministers and officials in the Ministry of Justice are responsible for bringing seven different lawsuits against Gazeta Wyborcza and its journalists in recent years, with six initiated over a single article.

The most recent was launched against Mr Michnik on March 2 over an article published in the paper edition and on wyborcza.pl which was written by investigative journalist, Wojciech Czuchnowski, and law correspondent, Ewa Ivanova.

Entitled “Pensja Ziobry poza prawem” (“The salary of Ziobro is against the law”) – the article pointed out that under the constitution it is potentially illegal for Ziobro to combine the salaries earned from his position as Prosecutor General and as an MP.

The journalists reported that Ziobro’s supplementary salary over the last three years as prosecutor general had been nearly 200 thousand PLN, noting that Article 103 (2) of the Constitution prohibits MPs from also being prosecutors and claiming that the Minister has circumvented the rule. Gazeta Wyborcza stands by the accuracy of its reporting and believes the article illustrated an important legal ambiguity in the constitution that it is clearly in the public interest to clarify.

In the lawsuit, which will now be decided on by the Civil Department of the District Court in Warsaw, Ziobro claims that the constitutional ban refers only to common prosecutors and not to the Minister of Justice, who performs the function of the Prosecutor-General. He has requested a correction be published and that his legal costs are covered.

While Mr Ziobro naturally reserves the right to use the courts to defend his name, it is abundantly clear that these lawsuits, like others brought by the MoJ, are aimed at heaping additional financial strain on the newspaper with the intention of dragging it through court, wasting resources on legal fees, and ultimately on pushing Gazeta Wyborcza to avoid such public interest stories in the future. Whenever there is the slightest opportunity to bring a lawsuit, this is the go-to option for the government.

The challenge of fighting a barrage of lawsuits is a daily reality for several other newspapers critical of the Polish government. The cumulative effect over the past five years has contributed to a serious decline in press and media freedom in Poland, as our report concluded. Unless the administration halts this wilful abuse of its own civil and criminal code to try and punish critical and challenging public interest reporting, this situation is unlikely to improve.

In the coming months, our organisations will continue to closely monitor the situation in Poland, respond to further attacks on independent journalism, brief the European Commission on key developments, and carry out observation missions to court cases wherever possible.

 

SIGNED

ARTICLE 19

European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)

European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)

Free Press Unlimited (FPU)

International Press Institute (IPI)

OBC Transeuropa

This statement is part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), an Europe-wide mechanism, which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries. This project provides legal and practical support, public advocacy and information to protect journalists and media workers. The MFRR is organised by an consortium led by the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) with ARTICLE 19, the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), Free Press Unlimited (FPU), the Institute for Applied Informatics at the University of Leipzig (InfAI), International Press Institute (IPI) and CCI/Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT). The project is co-funded by the European Commission. www.mfrr.eu

Read news by categories:

Related news

Feature

Albania: Media must not face criminal prosecution for public interest reporting

The undersigned media freedom and journalist associations express shared concern over the blanket publication ban issued by Albanian prosecutorial authorities regarding a trove of hacked data.

READ MORE
SLAPP

Call for Italian political forces to take a stand against SLAPPs

A group of media freedom and journalists' organisations have published a statement outlining a list of measures that must be adopted in order to protect SLAPP victims in Italy.

READ MORE
General

Joint Statement on the Proposal for the European Media Freedom Act

ECPMF has joined a group of journalists’, media freedom, and human rights organisations to welcome the European Commission's initiative to strengthen the free and pluralistic media system and the commitment to protect journalists and editorial independence within the European Union through the publication of the European Media Freedom Act.

READ MORE
General

MFRR Monitoring Report: 311 European media freedom violations recorded in first half of 2022

The Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) has published the latest edition of the MFRR Monitoring Report, outlining the state of media freedom throughout all European Union Member States and candidate countries from January to June 2022.

READ MORE
Statement

Albania: Press freedom groups call for a fair trial in defamation lawsuit by former top prosecutor against Isa Myzyraj

A group of media freedom and freedom of expression organisations and journalist unions and associations are concerned by the defamation lawsuit filed against journalist Isa Myzyraj.

READ MORE
Press release

International civil society urges European Union to guarantee an enabling visa framework for human rights defenders

In a joint statement, 50 international civil society organisations are calling on all European Union institutions and the EU Member States to return on its political mandate in favour of human rights and human rights defenders.

READ MORE