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Changes in the press law are not sufficient – an intervention with the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers

Poland has failed to adapt its press law to the standards stemming from the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, warns the HFHR in its intervention to the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers. The Council will soon evaluate the enforcement of the judgment in the case Wizerkaniuk v. Poland.

The HFHR notes that the provisions challenged by the ECtHR have not been adequately revamped. The Foundation also emphasises that the works on the draft press law put forward by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage have come to a standstill.

J. Wizerkaniuk, a journalist, was convicted for publishing an interview in a newspaper without first obtaining an authorisation of the interviewee. Polish courts found him guilty, despite the fact that he reproduced exactly what the interviewee said and all the facts presented in the article were true.

The ECtHR found that a criminal sentence imposed on the journalist by domestic courts was a violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Court’s judgment contained a number of remarks on the legal provisions governing authorisation, especially a criminal sanction for publishing an interview without the authorisation.

Despite the fact that Poland lost the case before the European Court of Human Rights and in spite of the significant criticism directed against the current law on authorisation, no legislative changes have been undertaken so far. Moreover, the existing proposals for amending the law, including those proposed by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, maintain the obligation to obtain an authorisation, some of them providing for the replacement of the criminal sanction regime with other, less rigorous remedies.

The suggested modifications are not sufficient. Maintaining the journalist’s obligation to obtain an authorisation of the press statement and the penalty for failure to do so, will continue to restrict the freedom of expression and the freedom of the press, even if the sanction imposed is not going to be a criminal one. In order to avoid liability, journalists will be paraphrasing the statements made by their interviewees instead of quoting the same, as the former requires no authorisation. Surely, this will be done at the cost of precision of the message conveyed. What’s more, journalists will shy away from asking inconvenient questions fearing that interviewees may later refuse to give authorisation to publish the interview.

The Foundation’s intervention with the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers is available here.

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