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HFHR supports journalists of public radio stations

In the wake of the actions of the Polish Radio Corporation taken towards members of the Trade Union of Journalists and Employees of Polish Radio Channels Three and Two, the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights has decided to support the journalists. At the request of the HFHR, Wardyński i Wspólnicy agreed to provide pro bono legal aid to the Union.

The HFHR decided to step in after Paweł Sołtys, a journalist of Channel Three and the Union’s chairperson, was dismissed from work. To find out more about the dismissal, please read the statement issued by the Union. Lawyers from Wardyński i Wspólnicy said they would challenge Mr Sołtys’ dismissal in court. The justification of the dismissal is brief and general.

The HFHR reminds that taking public media journalists off air or dismissing them from work based on obscure grounds is a practice unacceptable in a democratic society and a threat to the freedom of speech. Considering the special mission of the public media, state-controlled media outlets should operate a merit-based employment policy, which must be free from any political or worldview bias.

In Manole v. Moldova, the European Court of Human Rights noted that the journalistic mission can only be accomplished if journalists have proper conditions for practising their profession. The management of the public media is obliged to ensure that their employees may do their jobs without pressure or interference in the reported content.

The HFHR also notes that journalists should be entitled to speak their mind and criticise observed deficiencies in the functioning of the public media outlets in which they are employed. The ECtHR expressed such an opinion taken in Wojtas-Kaleta v. Poland, holding that “the obligation of discretion and constraint cannot be said to apply with equal force to journalists, given that it is in the nature of their functions to impart information and ideas”. The ECtHR emphasised that journalists have the right, or even the duty, to comment on matters of public significance, including those related to the organisation of work or the functioning of the media that perform a public mission.

The Foundation further observes that the dismissal of the trade union’s chairperson raises significant doubts from the perspective of the protection of freedom of association in labour union guaranteed under Article 59 of the Constitution and Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights. In Palomo Sánchez and Others v. Spain, the ECtHR noted that the freedom of expression is a basic condition of union freedom, indicating that “the members of a trade union must be able to express to their employer the demands by which they seek to improve the situation of workers in their company. … A trade union that does not have the possibility of expressing its ideas freely in this connection would indeed be deprived of an essential means of action.”

Last week, also the Commissioner for Human Rights expressed his concerns over the situation of employees of Polish Radio Channel Three. The chairperson of the Trade Unions Forum, Dorota Gardias, and the chair of “Solidarity” Independent Trade Union, Piotr Duda, have spoken directly on the matter of Mr Sołtys’ dismissal.

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