Polish Court Upholds Freedom of Speech and the Press

The Warsaw Court of Appeal has quashed a ruling that prohibited defendants - a journalist and his publishing company - from publishing news about the plaintiff in the case, because the latter was a public figure.

Earlier this year, Member of Parliament Piotr S. brought a claim before a Polish court, alleging damage to his reputation by defendants S. Ltd Publishing Group and Piotr P., one of its journalists. The MP argued that a violation of his personal image might have occurred because of an article printed by a local newspaper, K.T., disclosing information on the MP meeting a prostitute, Magdalena I., which allegedly occurred during an official, state-funded visit to Lublin. The plaintiff sought an injunction against the publisher and the journalist.

In March, a district court in Warsaw found in favor of the MP and issued an injunction barring the defendants from printing in the K.T. newspaper or publishing on their website any "information concerning the claimant and his family in the context of events of December 19, 2012."

The defendants' lawyer appealed against the decision, with the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights acting as amicus curiae. Dorota Głowacka, HFHR's lawyer, says, "We have pointed to the fact that prohibition of publication, adjudicated towards the journalist, due to the character of the applied measure and its broad range, has been an excessive limitation of the defendants' freedom of speech."

In May, The Warsaw Court of Appeal quashed the injunction. It reasoned that a prohibition of publication is an extraordinary measure. Therefore, the Court said, any court considering such a judgment must weigh public interest and the interest of a claimant, with regard to the specific "mission standing before means of social communication."

Dorota Głowacka explains, "As the claimant in this case has been holding a public office, one of a Member of Parliament, the Court came to a conclusion that a prohibition of publication contradicts important public interests."

The Court has also underscored that when any court is asked to issue an injunction that might contradict important public interests, it are obliged to refuse to grant such a request.