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Criminal sanction for refusal to publish a correction remains the law. Foundation’s critical review

As a party invited to the public consultations, the HFHR presented before the Sejm and Senate committees a critical review of the draft amendment to the provisions on correction and response in the Press Act. The Foundation prepared a long list of reservations concerning the draft prepared by the Sejm and Senate committees.

The Foundation is critical of the proposal which gives the person making the response the right to freely formulate the content of the published statement. The proponents of the new legislation suggest to replace the current system of correction and response with a uniform mechanism of responding to the facts and opinions contained in a press publication. Such a solution imposes on editors-in-chief a duty to publish the correction even if it diverts from the facts altogether or is based on questionable grounds. Moreover, the duty to publish the response applies even if the original publication does not threaten personal interests of the responding person. As compared to the system currently in place, the proposed amendment carries even a greater risk of abusing the privilege of having a response published by forcing the media to publish publicity statements of no informational value.

In addition, editors-in-chief would still be obliged to assess whether the response contains any punishable contents and whether it might violate personal interests of third parties or principles of the public policy. Thus, the law would put editors in a position of ‘judges in their own cases’.

The HFHR also pointed to the fact that instead of extending the rights of a person making the response, it is necessary to introduce an efficient mechanism enabling  quick publication of a factual correction. However, the proposed bill fails in this respect as well.

The proponents of the new legislation have not removed the criminal sanctions for the failure to publish a correction, which is incompatible with the standards of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, expressed in its recent decision on the case of Mr. Sroka, Polish journalist and editor. A threat of criminal liability for journalists creates favourable conditions for the abuse of the right to request a correction.

The draft amendment does not properly regulate the issue of posting corrections and responses on the Internet, which gives rise to much controversy. According to the HFHR, the Internet, a medium with its own special properties, cannot be subject to the same measures that are applicable to the printed press.  Certainly, clear rules for the publication of responses in the ‘e-papers’ ought to be introduced. In particular, such issues as time and place of publication must be regulated.

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