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Court: dismissal of Polish Radio Channel One director illegal

A court in Warsaw entered today a judgment in the case of Kamil Dąbrowa, a former editor-in-chief at Channel One of the Polish Radio. At the beginning of January, the journalist was dismissed after he had the national anthem of Poland and the anthem of the European Union aired before news services. The court awarded the journalist compensation for the three-month notice period together with statutory interest accrued from the date of filing the lawsuit.  The judgment is not final.

The initiative of Mr Kamil Dąbrowa was to drive the public attention of to the enacted amendments to the Broadcasting Act (known as the “Small Media Act”) which changed the rules governing the parliamentary appointment of the top management of state media corporations. So far more that 100 journalists of the public media outlets have been dismissed based on the new provisions.

The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights joined the proceedings as a community representative. “We were pointing to the fact that while terminating the employment contract of the journalist the Polish Radio failed to sufficiently observe the guarantees resulting from the prohibition of discrimination and the principle of freedom of expression”, said Dominika Bychawska-Siniarska, director of the HFHR’s programme “Observatory of the Freedom of Media in Poland”. “Polish Radio disregarded the fact that the special initiative of the journalist was aimed at provoking a public debate on the risks associated with the adopted “small” amendment to the media law, a topic which is attracting a lot of reasonable interest of the public opinion”, Ms Bychawska-Siniarska adds.

In its statement, the HFHR pointed out to the judgment of the ECtHR in the case of Wojtas-Kaleta v. Poland. The Court stated that journalists not only had the right but also were obliged to comment on matters of considerable importance for the public. Moreover, the ECtHR ruled that in such cases, given the specific nature of the profession, the duty of loyalty of journalists towards employers is not as extensive as that binding on members of other professions and that the employers’ ability to restrict journalists’ freedom of expression is limited. Referring to the case of Manole and other v. Moldova the HFHR drew attention to the obligation of providing detailed reasoning for dismissals of public media journalists.

During the hearing on 24 June 2016 the Court heard the claimant’s testimony about to the manner and circumstances in which he was dismissed. The Court did not admit the evidence from testimonies of any other witnesses. Having heard the claimant’s testimony and a statement of the HFHR, the Court closed the evidentiary phase of the proceedings. After a deliberation, the Court issued a judgment, holding that the dismissal of the journalist was illegal.

“This is the first judgment concerning a dismissal of a journalist on the basis of the amended media law of December 2015”, said Dominika Bychawska-Siniarska.  “We hope that the case won by Kamil Dąbrowa will encourage other journalists dismissed on the basis of the Small Media Act to take legal action”, Ms Bychawska-Siniarska adds

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