Roberta Knoll

23 November 2020

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Poland: OKO.press bears huge financial burden for legal threats against it

The past five years have been daunting for online news outlet, OKO.press in Poland, as they have had to walk the corridors of courtrooms battling legal lawsuits. Since 2018 to date, OKO.press have been handling at least seven vexatious lawsuits brought against them by wealthy business people, companies and politicians. Some demands require the deletion of publications, apologies, and if these demands are not met they are followed by threats  to require large sums of money in damages.

One of the cases was initiated by the World War II Museum in Gdansk over an article titled „Muzeum lepiej omijać szerokim łukiem”. Co minister Gliński zrobił z pamięcią o II wojnie światowej’’ (“It’s better to avoid the museum. What Minister Gliński did with the memory of World War II”), published on 2 April 2020. The plaintiff based the claims on Article 31a of the Press Law, which sets out the legal prerequisites for corrections. The case is being examined by the District Court in Warsaw. 

In two separate cases, the initiators were judges – Konrad Wytrykowski, who is a Supreme Court judge and Maciej Nawacki, who is a District Court judge. They both filed a private criminal prosecution against a journalist from OKO.press. The charge pertains to the posting of a press article on the OKO.press website, titled “Afera Piebiaka, macki Ziobry. Ujawniamy, kto jeszcze uczestniczył w akcji hejtowania sędziów” (The affair of Piebiak, Ziobro’s tentacles. We reveal who else participated in the hate campaign against judges”). The article exposed alleged links between the judge and a group of people associated with the then Deputy Minister of Justice, Łukasz Piebiak, who are said to have publicly defamed certain judges. The journalist is accused of slandering the judge through the mass media.

Piotr Pacewicz, founder and editor in chief of OKO.press shared his concerns with the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) saying,

Any attempts at interfering in media with lawsuits aim at having a chilling effect.  This involves more than settling a specific dispute. It sends a message: “Beware, you can’t do all that you want”. Numerous analyses of populist systems emphasise that control over the media is key for populists. Because populists’ governance model is based on the highly selective distribution of truth and circulation of many false or manipulated messages. Independent media, which uncovers such lies and manipulations, are all the more dangerous for populists and their grip on power.”

Founded on principles of preserving freedom of speech and securing access to information in Poland, OKO.press has continued to publish critical information, while battling these litigations in various cities in Poland. ECPMF continues to monitor and document cases of legal threats to press and media freedom across Europe. Thus far, the legal cases brought against OKO.press can be found on the Mapping Media Freedom (MMF) platform as follows: 

  1. https://mappingmediafreedom.ushahidi.io/posts/23601
  2. https://mappingmediafreedom.ushahidi.io/posts/23596
  3. https://mappingmediafreedom.ushahidi.io/posts/23590
  4. https://mappingmediafreedom.ushahidi.io/posts/23600
  5. https://mappingmediafreedom.ushahidi.io/posts/23599
  6. https://mappingmediafreedom.ushahidi.io/posts/23598
  7. https://mappingmediafreedom.ushahidi.io/posts/23597

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