Newsman Skirts Fine for Printing Accurate Story

     (CN) – A Soviet-era law curbing the power of the press in Poland violates the right to free expression, Europe’s human rights court said, ordering Poland to compensate a journalist was wrongly convicted for publishing an accurate interview with a politician who retracted consent in 2003.

     Jerzy Wizerkaniuk was co-owner and editor-in-chief at a local paper in Poland when he allowed two journalists working there to publish word-for-word excerpts from an interview with a member of Parliament, despite the parliamentarian’s post-hoc refusal to authorize it.
     After the journalists shared the text they intended to print from the consensually recorded interview, the politician withdrew his permission. They ran the story anyway, noting the subject’s objection.
     Wizerkaniuk was fined for the article under a Soviet-era press law that made such acts illegal. Although Poland’s constitutional court issued a split ruling, it upheld the fine.
     The European Court of Human Rights, based in Strasbourg, France, noted that such laws are likely to violate free speech because they have a chilling effect on journalistic liberty.
     It also pointed out that there is high value of public interest for information on public figures such as politicians.
     The politician in this case had not been required to provide any reasoning for his refusal, and since the content was printed verbatim, the accuracy of his statements was not in question, the seven-justice chamber wrote.
     The press law, passed “at a time when all media had been subjected to preventive censorship,” is incompatible with freedom of expression in a democratic society, the European tribunal concluded.
     The court ordered Poland to pay Wizerkaniuk about $8,000 in compensation and expenses.

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