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Poland: Media-political free expression rows set for human rights judgement

Two freedom of expression disputes in Poland reach judgement day tomorrow (5 July) at the European Court of Human Rights.

Kurski v. Poland (no. 26115/10)

The applicant, Jacek Kurski, is a Polish national who was born in 1966 and lives in Gdańsk (Poland).

The case concerns his complaint about a court order to publish an apology for statements he had made in a TV programme.

A member of the Polish parliament for the Law and Justice party at the time, Kurski participated in a live TV programme on the channel TVP2 in May 2008 together with other politicians and experts. During the programme, he took out a copy of Gazeta Wyborcza, a major daily newspaper, and pointed to particular pages, referring to articles critical of the Law and Justice party.

He alleged that there was an agreement between a company which was advertising in the paper and the publisher, which was behind the attacks on the party in the articles, stating that the company was “financing mass propaganda against Law and Justice.”

The newspaper’s publisher brought a civil claim against Kurski, maintaining that his statements during the TV programme had harmed its good name and credibility.

In June 2007, the Warsaw Regional Court granted the claim and ordered Kurski to issue an apology via Gazeta Wyborcza and TVP2, and to pay the equivalent of 2,500 euros (EUR) to a charity. The court observed in particular that his statement had contained both facts and conclusions drawn from facts, and that the accusation that the newspaper had published articles ordered by a sponsor was clearly offensive to the publisher.

The judgment was upheld on appeal and Kurski’s cassation appeal was dismissed by the Supreme Court in November 2009.

Kurski complains that those court decisions violated his rights under Article 10 (freedom of expression).

Ziembiński v. Poland (no. 2) (no. 1799/07)

The applicant, Maciej Ziembiński, is a Polish national who was born in 1944 and lives in Kłomnice (Poland). The case concerns his conviction for insult.

Ziembiński is the owner and editor of a local weekly newspaper published in the Radomsko and Bełchatów districts. In August 2004 he published an article in the paper, in which he criticised several recent business proposals for the region, such as the idea to develop a quail farm. He indirectly referred to several persons at the origin of the proposals, without using their names.

In March 2005, the mayor of the Radomsko district, the head of the district’s marketing department and an employee of that department lodged a private bill of indictment against Ziembiński, accusing him, in respect of the article, of defamation committed through the mass media. They alleged in particular that the use of words such as “numbskull”, “dull boss”, “dim-witted official” and “poser” had lowered them in public opinion.

In a judgment of February 2006 the competent district court found that the use of those expressions had amounted to insult committed through the mass media. The court convicted Ziembiński under the relevant provision and ordered him to pay a fine of the equivalent of around EUR 2,600.

The judgment was upheld on appeal in April 2006.

Ziembiński complains that his conviction violated his rights under Article 10 (freedom of expression) and alleges that the fine imposed on him was disproportionate.

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