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Tomasz Zimoch vs. Public Radio – trial commences

On 9 May, two lawsuits related to the termination of Tomasz Zimoch’s employment at Polskie Radio, Polish state-owned radio corporation, were first heard by a Warsaw court. The HFHR observes the case as part of its Observatory of the Freedom of Media in Poland.

Termination of employment

In June 2016, the sports journalist terminated his employment contract without notice, citing the employer’s breach of contract, after he was officially suspended by the station’s management. Upon suspension, Mr Zimoch’s planned work assignments were cancelled and he was unable to cover several major international sports events. The disciplinary measure was the station management’s response to the press interview given by Mr Zimoch to the daily newspaper Dziennik Gazeta Prawna, in which he commented on the current situation in the public media.

The radio outlet brought an action against the journalist, seeking damages for unreasonable termination of his employment contract without notice. Mr Zimoch filed a counterclaim, in which he moved for the dismissal of the station’s lawsuit and sought damages for termination of employment caused by the employer’s fault. The journalist alleges that the station’s management violated their obligation to provide him with the actual possibility of performing work. He also claims that his former employer made harassing public statements against him and subjected him to measures amounting to unreasonable and disproportionate repression.

Polish Radio: “Zimoch’s statements violate professional ethics”

Let us remind our readers that the disputed interview was entitled “Tomasz Zimoch: In less than two decades, Andrzej Rzepliński will be a national hero”. The piece was published in the DGP issue from 13 May 2016. After the publication, the journalist was suspended from work until further notice. At the same time, his pre-scheduled work assignments to the UEFA European Championship and the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro were cancelled. Already at the weekend of the interview’s publication, the management board of Polskie Radio issued a statement which read, among other things, that “Heavily one-sided and biased statements of Mr Zimoch violate professional ethics, are unworthy of a journalist and contrary to the principles that the Polish Public Radio strives to follow”. The journalist’s case was referred for the consideration of the station’s Ethics Board.

The Board issued its opinion on 6 June, resolving that one of the expressions used in the interview violated rules of professional ethics. The passage in question reads as follows: “It’s worse than during Martial Law, worse than in Communist times. This is a treatment degrading journalists, editors. People are humiliated, tired of it.” (to read the full interview, follow this link). However, the Ethics Board did not refer to the remaining comments offered by Mr Zimoch because “this would violate the principle of the freedom to express one’s opinions, which exists in every democratic country”.

HFHR to take part

The HFHR observes the proceedings and plans to submit an amicus curiae brief in the case. “This is an important case for us because it concerns the limits of the legally allowed criticism of deficiencies in the public media, which the journalist noticed from the inside”, emphasises Dorota Głowacka, the member of the HFHR’s legal team who personally observed the hearing.

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