The landmark cases argue for and against a new reading of our fundamental human rights. Namely, that we have the right to be well-informed by public media and deliberate attempts to spread false information by public sources is an attack against our dignity.

Last year, Waldemar Sadowski became known as a man who stood up against the state propaganda being spread by the Polish public broadcaster, TVP. Currently, he’s waiting for the dates of his new court hearings as he has two ongoing trials: the first one, submitted on September 1st 2017, is against the Polish public broadcaster TVP where he’s accusing the state–owned media of manipulation through propaganda, and therefore violateing his and the Polish nation’s dignity.

Sadowski demands apologies in various media as well as the discontinuation of the current editorial practices.

In the second case, he’s been accused by TVP for defamation, which according to the plaintiff took place during the interview with the daily Gazeta Wyborcza on July 6th 2018. In this interview, Sadowski argued that TVP, in its various publications, does not show respect for the truth which in his opinion is a violation of his and the whole nation’s dignity.

“It is about controlling the free will of human beings, which is the essence of freedom. Having a lack of respect for the truth, TVP does not respect human dignity automatically,” Sadowski told Wyborcza.

Waldemar Sadowski is a lawyer and an entrepreneur from Poland. Two years ago, he started his legal fight for defense of human dignity in Poland.

Waldemar Sadowski

“I studied law and philosophy for my own pleasure, I have knowledge about those things, so (after the changes in TVP) it became obvious to me that the party is violating human dignity,” Sadowski told Visegrad/Insight and highlighted that his activities should be seen as citizen activism in an attempt to defend human rights.

This was definitely not the perspective of TVP. The Polish public broadcaster accused Sadowski in a separate case for defamation, and demands 100 000 Polish zloty (around 25k EUR) to be donated to the Christian charity Caritas as compensation, as well as public apologies in various Polish media.

Paving new avenues

Sadowski vs TVP is the first case in the world where a citizen sues a public broadcaster for violation of dignity of the plaintiff and a whole nation through the spreading of untrue information.

According to Gillian Phillips – an experienced media lawyer currently the Director of Editorial Legal Services at The Guardian, who advises the paper on defamation issues, Wikileaks, phone–hacking, the Leveson Inquiry and the Edward Snowden leaks – the Sadowski vs TVP case is very interesting, but a hard one to predict the outcome as nothing like this has been known in the legal world.

“There is a case in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg under the European Convention on Human Rights, which apparently raised similar – though not identical – issues. That case, which related to Russia, raised concerns regarding a lack of independence on the part of the state regulator of the audio-visual media.”

Protests against the changes to TVP, 6 January, 2016. Photo credit: Rebecca Mason

But Phillips notices that Sadowski vs TVP appears to be “more stark” because the allegation is that the state is seeking to exert direct control over the journalistic output of TVP.

“The difficulty with these cases is that the ECHR has never really been clear about the kind of relationship between state and national broadcasters which is permissible. But given the position now in Poland, Hungary, Russia and other states there is certainly increased pressure on the ECHR to address this directly,” she noted.

However, in her opinion, if there comes a point when the case is directed to Strasbourg, it could be seen as a breach of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights which provides the right of freedom of expression and information, more precisely the right “to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.”

“This might be a case in which a ‘positive’ conception of free speech (i.e. obligation falling on the state proactively to facilitate or promote the interests of hearers/citizens) would appeal to Strasbourg, i.e. if the state undertakes to provide public service, balanced news coverage and then fails utterly to do so, this might be a breach of A10.” She concluded and referenced the Magyar Helsinki Bizottság v Hungary case on access to information is an example of such an abjuration.

She also pointed out that it would be worth checking if the Polish regulatory regime is consistent with the requirements of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and the AVMD directive, which requires independence.

“At first blush, it seems the Polish legal framework no longer complies with these requirements, though I’d need to know a lot more about the Polish framework to work this out,” she told Visegrad/Insight.

She also says that the Council of Europe prepared guidelines which are worth investigating, among other routes like bringing the case to the European level if all domestic possibilities are exhausted. In cases of that nature, posting a question of independence would require reference to the European Court of Justice.

“Article 288 (3) imposes an obligation on member states to ensure that their domestic regulation is capable of ensuring that the objectives of a directive are obtained. From the brief description, it seems to me that there is potentially a good argument that the Polish regime is no longer capable of doing this,” she suggested, adding that there is always a possibility for a complaint to the UN special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression.

When it comes to the defamation case of TVP vs Sadowski, she says that the case is much easier to assess.

“It’s almost blackmail (TVP suing Sadowski), people have right for litigation, however much you think they’re not going to win their case, they have a right to bring it to the court, for the court to determine it,” she informed and explained that once the court makes its decision, the judgement is determining who’s wrong, who’s right.

“You have a judgement, what’s the point to sue back the person with that in hand? It looks more personal” she concluded.

 

This article is part of the #DemocraCE project organised by Visegrad/Insight. It was published by Kontrapress in Serbian and can be found here.

Originally from Wroclaw, Poland, Natalia Żaba has spent a decade in the Western Balkan region, first as a student, then as a reporter and media programme manager at the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network. She covers politics and regional affairs for Al Jazeera Balkans amongst numerous other regional outlets.


Scenarios for cohesive growth

As of 2019 the negotiations about the next Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) will enter a critical moment. In the face of an imminent Brexit and the fallout from global turmoil, the EU has to reflect on its guiding principles and take decisions to fulfil the promise of a united Europe.

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The Visegrad/Insight is the main platform of debate and analysis on Central Europe. This report has been developed in cooperation with the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS).

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