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Ziobro loses to “Black and White”. He wanted to “correct” a critical opinion

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The editor-in-chief of “Black and white” TVN24 does not have to publish Zbigniew Ziobro’s statement, which he called a correction. This was confirmed by a final judgment, ultimately upheld by the Supreme Court, according to which the provisions of the press law do not apply to an evaluation statement. It is about the statement of MP Joanna Scheuring-Wielgus in a report about the so-called register of pedophiles.

For four years, the Minister of Justice tried to convince the courts of two instances and Supreme Court on the report by Arkadiusz Wierzuk, broadcast in “Czarno na Białe” on October 1, 2018. The material concerned a register of pedophiles, i.e. a state-established – under the rule of the United Right – partly open, partly with limited access database of information about the perpetrators of the most serious sex crimes. The journalist investigated how the register works, because the state database did not contain any information about Father Grzegorz K., despite his final conviction for a sexual offense committed to the detriment of a child. In this way, the author of the report fulfilled the obligation imposed on journalists by the law (Article 1 of the Press Law) to control the actions of the authorities.


Zbigniew Ziobro appeals against the editor-in-chief’s decision

The press law gives “interested persons” the possibility of “factual and factual rectification of inaccurate or untrue information contained in the press material”.

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Three weeks after the broadcast of the report Zbigniew Ziobro – by proxy, in the mode of a request for rectification – he demanded that his statement be broadcast in “Czarno nawhite” with the following content: “(…) it is not true that priests have been omitted or hidden in the register of pedophiles. The entry in the register depends on type of crime committed, and the profession or social group affiliation is of no importance.

However, the author of the report did not provide such information. Zbigniew Ziobro referred to a fragment of the opinion of MP Joanna Scheuring-Wielgus quoted in the report. It read in its entirety as follows:

“Proceeding this law was only for the public to show citizens that we – Law and JusticeI, Minister Ziobro, do everything to punish the most despicable criminals in Poland. Only the fact is that the pedophile priests were bypassed or specially hidden,” said the MP.

The editor-in-chief of “Black on White” Patrycja Redo-Łabęwska refused to publish Zbigniew Ziobro’s statement, indicating that the statement of MP Joanna Scheuring-Wielgus was an opinion, and the press law does not provide for the possibility of correcting opinions, but only news – and only untrue or inaccurate ones.

In view of the refusal of the editor-in-chief of “Black and white”, Ziobro referred the case to the court. In both instances (the District Court and the Court of Appeal), his attorney heard verdicts that “Black and White” was right.

Evaluation statement “does not fall under the recipe”

“While dismissing the claim, the court of first instance explained that the statement being the subject of the requested correction was not a statement about facts, but an evaluation statement, which does not fall under the provision (…) [Prawa prasowego o sprostowaniu – red.]”- we read in the justification of the judgment of the Supreme Court, which considered the cassation appeal in this case and dismissed it.

The Court of Appeal, in turn, pointed out that taking sentences out of context in Ziobro’s application does not serve to assess whether the MP’s statement is a statement about facts or an opinion.

“The Court of Appeal shared the position of the District Court that the content of the disputed statement (her second sentence) by MP Scheuring-Wielgus should be interpreted in the context of the entire press material, and in particular in connection with the first sentence of the MP, and that this statement was an assessment, primarily political, of authorities, in particular the Minister of Justice” – this is how the Supreme Court describes the judgment of the Court of Appeal in Warsaw, to which Ziobro referred.

The next step of Zbigniew Ziobro was to file a cassation complaint with the Supreme Court. The minister consistently argued that the court should evaluate a fragment of the quote from MP Scheuring-Wielgus, and not the entire quote. In his opinion, this fragment of the fragment can be assessed in terms of true-false, so – this is Ziobro’s argument – it can be corrected.

Ziobro’s attorney also pointed out procedural errors to the court of second instance – referring to the Code of Civil Procedure. Plaintiff’s arguments in this regard have not been accepted. However, this is already a complicated legal issue. In this text, we focus on how the courts assessed the MP’s statement quoted in the material “Black and White”.

Key logic, style and grammar

The Supreme Court found that the common courts of both instances did not err. He emphasized that “the content of the second sentence of the disputed statement…” (that is, “The only fact is that the pedophile priests were omitted or specifically hidden”) “…is not clear and may cause interpretation problems.”

The Supreme Court therefore explained that this is why “it must be considered in conjunction with the first sentence”.

The common courts, examining the request to order the publication of the rectification, had already analyzed the MP’s statements – both on the basis of formal logic and the grammar of the Polish language. This was necessary to prove that Scheuring-Wielgus was expressing an opinion and not stating facts.

Such evidence was also carried out by the Supreme Court in the justification of the judgment ultimately dismissing Ziobro’s claims related to the material published in “Czarno na White”.

Assessing the MP’s statement, the Supreme Court stated that “undoubtedly, as a whole, it is primarily a political assessment legislative processwhich led to the adoption of the Act of May 13, 2016 and its effects in relation to the ‘pedophilic priests’ generally defined in this statement.

And here the Supreme Court analyzed the stylistic means used by the MP in the statement quoted in “Black and white”.

“Behind such [ocennym – przyp. red.] its character is not only evident in the first sentence of a certain dose of irony, intended to strengthen the overtone of the MP’s criticism of the actual – in her opinion – goals of the ruling party related to the adoption of this act, but above all the perspective of the MP’s political priorities presented in this statement.

Further, the Supreme Court emphasizes the social value of the fact that an MP publicly speaks out in this matter.

“This statement shows a special interest in priests-pedophiles, through the prism of the regulation contained in this act. (…) This statement also includes an important social aspect, i.e. protection of children against sexual abuse, which only confirms the position of the courts of both instances regarding the qualification of the entire statement as evaluative and not as factual.

The Supreme Court, analyzing in detail the grammatical tense and the personal (here: impersonal) form of the verbs used in Scheuring-Wielgus’ statement, also stated that her opinion concerned the effect of the act on pedophile priests, whose guilt had been found before the act entered into force. Meanwhile, the complainants [czyli Zbigniew Ziobro – przyp. red.] focuses on the validity of the law for the future (…). As a consequence, the content of the requested rectification does not correspond to the disputed statement” – concludes the Supreme Court.

The judgment of the Supreme Court was issued on October 5. Its content, together with a written justification, was delivered to the attorney of the editor-in-chief of TVN24 on January 9, 2023. This judgment is final and definitively ends Ziobro’s four-year dispute with “Black and white”.

Correction – a political tool

Why is accurate rectification information important? Theoretically, the right to rectification should serve the truth and inform the public opinion as accurately as possible about events, phenomena and processes in public life. In practice, there are numerous cases where a disclaimer serves only as a tool to undermine the credibility of independent media, even against the facts or with selective treatment of facts by representatives of the authorities, or, let’s call it, political stakeholders.

An example of such action is the announcement of the Ministry of Justice of November 30, 2022 regarding the court dispute to order the publication of a rectification regarding the reportage “Promotion for Millions”, broadcast in “Czarno nawhite” on February 22, 2021, about the expenses of the Justice Fund to promote its activities. Zbigniew Ziobro tried to straighten this material in six points. The Court of Appeal in a final judgment rejected three and left three. Of the three remaining points, one concerns a mistake in the date, which does not change the overall content of the message. In the other two points upheld by the court, Zbigniew Ziobro demands that the “suggestions” be rectified. It is worth noting that in court, Ziobro uses the word “suggestions” for the “Black and White” trial, but for political purposes Ministry of Justice uses the word “lies” in public. In this case, on December 9, 2022, the Court of Appeal suspended the execution of its judgment, because the attorney of the editor-in-chief of TVN24 will file a cassation appeal to the Supreme Court in this case.

Another example concerns the case brought by the president of Orlen, Daniel Obajtek. He also demands a rectification of the report before the court “Obajtek’s real estate. What about social control?”, broadcast in “Black and white” in April 2021. Out of the six points in Obajtek’s application for rectification, the court took into account only two. The others he dismissed. Of the two points taken into account by the court, one concerns the “suggestion”, and the other concerns the statement of MP Marek Sowa quoted in the report. After the verdict dismissing most attempts to “correct”, Obajtek announced on Twitter: “the truth prevails”, and government television has been publishing false information for several days that TVN had to apologize to Obajtek, and the editor-in-chief of TVN24 to correct “untrue theses regarding the property of Daniel Obajtek”. Neither Obajtek applied for an apology, nor did the court order an apology.

In this case, the attorney-in-chief of the editor-in-chief of “Black and white” sent a request to stay the execution of the judgment, in connection with the intention to file a cassation complaint to the Supreme Court.

Main photo source: PAP/Pawel Supernak

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