Polish lawmakers have simplified provisions on interview “authorisation”, the process requiring journalists to obtain interviewees’ approval of an interview text before it can be published.
The move is part of a broader amendment to the Press Act, passed by the lower chamber of the Polish Parliament on Sept. 29.
Adopted in 1984, when rights and freedoms were severely curtailed in Poland, the Act has long contained vestiges of the communist era. In that context, the amendment is an overdue update, bringing Polish press law closer to modern European practice.
Once the changes enter into force – the Polish Senate is expected to confirm the changes later this year – publishing an interview text without the interviewee’s authorisation will no longer draw criminal sanctions, but merely civil penalties.
Before an interview, journalists will still have to inform interviewees about their right to authorise publication of their remarks that are quoted directly. But the amendment sets a concrete timeframe for granting authorisation: six hours for dailies and 24 hours for magazines. If the interviewee does not do so within those limits, his or her remarks will be considered authorised. The law specifies that interviewees cannot suggest new questions, add new information or answers, or rearrange the order in which the answer will be quoted.
The change implements a 2011 ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in the case Wizerkaniuk v. Poland. In 2004, Jerzy Wizerkaniuk, the editor-in-chief of a local newspaper, Gazeta Kościańska, was fined for publishing parts of an interview with a local member of parliament verbatim, after the latter refused to grant the newspaper permission to publish the edited version with which he was presented.
In its ruling, the ECHR deemed the criminal proceedings against Wizerkaniuk disproportionate and a violation of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees the right to freedom of expression. The current provisions on authorisation, it wrote, “give interviewees carte blanche to prevent a journalist from publishing any interview they regard as embarrassing or unflattering, regardless of how truthful or accurate it is”.
Moreover, the court deemed the criminal proceedings against Wizerkaniuk especially disproportionate given that civil instruments would have sufficed.
Polish journalists have greeted the changes as a step in the right direction.
“The changes improve, in an orderly, manner relations between the journalist and interviewee, which were still based on the communist press system,” Jolanta Hajdasz, head of the Centre for Monitoring Press Freedom attached to the Polish Journalists’ Association (SDP), one of the two main journalists’ organisations in the country, told the International Press Institute (IPI). “We consider the current changes beneficial for both.”
In practical terms, the most relevant change is the introduction of fixed timeframes for granting authorisation, Michał Potocki, editor of the opinion section at Dziennik Gazeta Prawna, a daily focusing on economics and legal affairs, said. Authorisation will now have to be granted within six hours, rather than allowing the period to drag on for days or even weeks, delaying publication, he noted.
Nevertheless, journalists emphasise that the changes could go further. Ultimately, press circles, including the SDP, say they would like to see the need to seek authorisation – which some describe as an “anachronistic” practice – to be abolished entirely.
More broadly, the changes are a concrete, but limited, measure in support of press freedom in Poland. In Parliament, the amendment to the Press Act was adopted with near-unanimous support across political parties, in a rare moment of consensus between the government and opposition on media issues.
At the same time, some Polish journalists see a dissonance between this move, implementing the ECHR ruling, and the broader climate surrounding press freedom in Poland, which has drawn increasing international concern since the Law and Justice (PiS) party came to power in 2015.