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Statement on Minister Nowak’s lawsuit against Wprost

The HFHR issued a statement to express its concern about the announcement by Minister Sławomir Nowak who said he would demand written apologies worth PLN 30 million in the lawsuit he brought against the Wprost weekly.

Primarily, the Foundation emphasises a need to respect the principle of proportionality and suitability of financial sanctions in court proceedings which concern the media’s right to the freedom of expression.

“The European Court of Human Rights held, for instance in the cases of Tolstoy Miloslavsky v. The United Kingdom and Pakdemirli v. Turkey, that overly large awards of compensation as well as the media’s obligation to bear other excessive costs such as those of publishing apologies may bring about a ‘freezing effect’ on and constitute an unacceptable interference with the freedom of speech”, reads the statement.

The HFHR notes that an excessively costly publication of apologies may be considered a special form of punishment rather than a compensation for an infringement of personal interests. “The threat of facing severe financial consequences may negatively affect the function of ‘the public controller’ performed by the media. This may also persuade journalists and publishers to employ self-censorship and refrain from raising difficult subjects or asking tough questions”, says Dorota Głowacka from the Observatory of the Freedom of Media in Poland, HFHR.

The Foundation also pointed out that the very fact of making such claims, especially by high-ranking public officials, raises serious doubts and may limit the public opinion’s right to be informed about actions taken by government representatives.

The HFHR’s statement underscores that damage may be redressed only by such methods that are economically reasonable and suitable for a given infringement. “A strict judicial scrutiny should be exercised over not only amounts claimed as compensation, but also any other costs related to the enforcement of the judgment, including the actual costs of publication of apologies”, appeals Dr. Adam Bodnar, HFHR Deputy President.

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