We are definitely going to take this case to court and demand the truth there – said Mariusz Smolarek, editor-in-chief of Radio Zet, in “Fakty po Faktach” on TVN24. It is about the penalty imposed on the station by the chairman of the National Broadcasting Council (KRRiT), Maciej Świrski. In turn, a member of the National Broadcasting Council, Professor Tadeusz Kowalski from the University of Warsaw, pointed out that the decision of the chairman was not discussed in the Council.
476 thousand PLN fine was imposed by the chairman of the National Broadcasting Council, Maciej Świrski, on Radio Zet. The penalty was imposed for the material concerning the lack of trust of the American services in the Polish services on the occasion of the president’s visit Ukraine through the territory of Poland. The material was supposed to be against the law and the Polish raison d’état.
The material was broadcast on December 22, 2022. Not a single request for rectification was received by the editor. “We strongly disagree with these allegations or with the imposed penalty,” said the management board of the Eurozet Group, to which the station belongs.
KRRiT fine imposed on Radio Zet
When asked why the head of the National Broadcasting Council imposed a penalty, Smolarek replied: – As I understand it, for the truth we provided on December 22. We reported that a train was passing through Poland, a special train from Ukraine. Our information showed that the Polish services knew about such a train, but they did not know exactly who was on it and who would pass through our country on it. There were no Polish services at the railway station in Przemyśl. There, it turned out that the president (of Ukraine Volodymyr – ed.) Zelensky was inside, who had been picked up by American services and transported to Rzeszów and had already flown from there.
– This is the highest penalty in the history of Polish radio and it is hard to say that half a million zlotys is not enough. Therefore, this is an amount that already sounds solid and is draconian – emphasized the editor-in-chief of Radio Zet. – We are definitely going to take this case to court and demand the truth there, because we are also fighting fake news – he added.
As Smolarek said, “today we must speak loudly about freedom of the media.” – This hashtag that appears everywhere (#free media) tells us not only that we are fighting for the rights of journalists, for the rights of the media, but above all for the right of all Poles to information. Today, it should be said out loud that there is no democratic state, no free society without the right to information, he stressed.
When asked what freedom of speech means to him, he replied: – Andrzej Woyciechowski (founder of Radio Zet – ed.) used to say that information is not subject to censorship. This is the basis of journalism and that’s what we focus on, that’s what we stick to.
– Without freedom of speech, we will actually be locked in only one information cage and we will hear what is ordered, not what is said. I mean the spoken truth and the difference between the ordered truth – stressed Smolarek.
Member of the National Broadcasting Council on the fine imposed on Radio Zet
Professor Tadeusz Kowalski pointed out that it is not National Broadcasting Council imposed a penalty, only its chairman. – It’s only his own decision. This matter has never been discussed at a meeting of the Council, it has never been discussed, we have never had the opportunity to exchange any arguments for and against, so it is an independent decision – emphasized a member of the National Broadcasting Council in “Fakty po Faktach”.
He added that “this is a very bad standard that results from a misunderstanding of the role of the president.” In his opinion, the constitution says that the National Broadcasting Council “guards the freedom of speech, the right to information and the public interest in radio and television.”
– This situation definitely does not suit me. I think that at the stage of discussion we would work out a slightly different position. I don’t know if this punishment is due or not. That will be decided by the court now. We are already at this stage, the handle has been taken, the decision has been made – noted the member of the National Broadcasting Council.
Competences of the Council
When asked whether the Council has the competence to impose such a penalty, prof. Kowalski replied: – In my opinion, he does not have such competence, because he is not in charge of settling the so-called material truth in this case. Anyway, no evidence has been presented that this information is not true. However, it seems to me that the clou of this problem is that the state authorities did not react. For two months there was practically no reaction to this information.
He added that “first, some confusion was introduced by Minister (Piotr) Wawrzyk, who said that it was somehow consulted”. – I think that anyone with a bit of brains does not know what it means, so to speak. Either it is consulted or it is not. And then, basically, such an assessment was based on two also not very precise opinions. One expressed by Stanisław Żaryn as a proxy, and the other expressed by her Ministry of the Interiorie representatives Mariusz Kaminski. And as a result, these are official opinions, moreover, an unknown name, because I do not have full documentation to make it clear – described Prof. Kowalski.
According to him, “if the state, stating that this information is untrue, reacted firmly, saying this information is untrue, it would end the case.”
The chairman of the National Broadcasting Council, Maciej Świrski, said in the Polish Radio that “reliability was not observed, this information was invented, hiding behind a journalistic secret”. Prof. Kowalski, asked if he knew how the chairman of the National Broadcasting Council examined it, replied: – I have no such knowledge.
Then he added: – The only knowledge is the one that results from his rather extensive message and justification, but this is paper knowledge. I mean, I think you have to respect journalistic secrecy first. This is the essence of your profession. If it wasn’t for the secret of journalism, you wouldn’t be able to practice this profession, especially investigative journalists, every journalist has the right, just as there is the secret of confession, there is medical secret, you also have the right to have this information protected. Only a court can release you from this information.
According to a member of the National Broadcasting Council, “the chairman (of the Council) exceeds his authority by speaking about it, because he has no authority to investigate journalistic secrets.”
– This may possibly be investigated by the court, but the state may not submit to it, i.e. the court may tell you that it releases you from journalistic secrecy, but you may refuse, i.e. continue to protect your source of information. Who can release you from journalistic secrecy? Your informant – this is the only person who can release you from this secret, who has reserved anonymity. This must be respected, said Prof. Kowalski.
He also added: – I would like to point out that a certain standard has been maintained with this information, because even in the communiqué there are two informants. So there is this principle of “double check” – double checking information, i.e. some journalistic diligence has been done here.
No qualitative research is taking place
When asked whether the National Council examines the materials of the government media with the same interest, the member of the National Broadcasting Council replied: – It does not investigate to any extent. No qualitative research is taking place. All complaints that have been filed are not very numerous, because they are simply ineffective, they are dismissed. I made a complaint myself. It was dismissed as unfounded.
He explained that “there was obvious hate speech, which did not receive any reaction from the chairman.”
– We have a case in Szczecin, which is still unresolved. We have a whole host of other cases that have been brought by citizens. They are not considered. (…) Here you can see that evil is seen only on one side, if such evil exists at all – pointed out prof. Kowalski.
He pointed out that “as far as educational efforts in the field of this information are concerned, go ahead, this is a very valuable activity”, but “I don’t really know what is going on in this area, and practically nothing is happening”.
The problem with independent media
To the statement that maybe the chairman of the National Broadcasting Council has a problem with independent media, a member of the National Broadcasting Council replied: – I think he has a problem. At one of the first meetings, I reminded the members of the Council that we were located at the square of Cardinal Wyszyński, not at Mysia 5, where, perhaps not everyone knows, the censorship office was located. Perhaps the chairman aspires to the title of censor of the year.
– We are talking here only about commercial media, but we are not talking about public media, where there is a lot of manipulation, understatement, hate speech. And this is not met with any reaction, so an attempt to act only on one part of the market, in my opinion, is doomed to failure – said prof. Kowalski.
He added that “the penalty on Radio Zet is excessive”. – This is almost the maximum possible penalty, of course in line with the regulations, but disproportionate to the potential damage that could result from it – he noted.
He explained that “if the state authorities did not react to this information, then they either considered it not relevant and should not be dealt with, or there was something wrong and they could not issue a message that it was untrue” and “if this was the case, this thing is over.”
The attack on Radio ZET is not the first attack by the chairman of the National Broadcasting Council, Maciej Świrski, on independent media. The TOK FM radio received a fine for criticizing the content of the history and present textbook. TVN already has six open cases with the chairman of the National Broadcasting Council.
Pressure to get rid of independent media
Prof. Kowalski, when asked if he sees systemic action in this, replied: – Yes. I think that this is undoubtedly a harbinger of what could happen if the course of events were as the ruling camp wishes, also in the future. I think there will be a growing pressure to get rid of independent media and gradually implement the Hungarian model, which is the worst possible.
When asked whether the National Broadcasting Council fulfills its tasks, he replied: – I am not so convinced and also the body that appointed me, i.e. the Senate, did not approve the report of the National Broadcasting Council, pointing to numerous shortcomings, including those related to with insufficient supervision over public media, which we all contribute to, and which simply do not carry out the tasks for which they were appointed.
Maciej Świrski became the chairman of the National Broadcasting Council in 2022.
Main photo source: TVN24