The Court of Appeal in Warsaw has largely dismissed the appeal of editor-in-chief of ‘Gazeta Polska’ Tomasz Sakiewicz against the Open Dialogue Foundation for the cover of the weekly, which depicts Kramek as a Wehrmacht soldier.
- The journalist must apologize to Kramek and pay him compensation.
- The court changed the part of the decision regarding the publication of the apology, ordering to place the statement of apology on the second page of the weekly, and not on the cover, as it was decided by the court of the first instance.
- The court also rejected Kramek’s request to post the apology on the ‘Gazeta Polska’ website on the permanent basis.
The case concerns a lawsuit filed by the husband of Lyudmyla Kozlovska, the President of the Open Dialogue Foundation, against Tomasz Sakiewicz for the August 2017 cover of ‘Gazeta Polska’, which depicted Wehrmacht soldiers under the headline “New September campaign. We know the plans for the autumn coup”. The cover features a photo montage of a German soldier breaking through a Polish border barrier, with Kramek’s face on it.
In the lawsuit, Kramek demanded PLN 30,000 in compensation, PLN 20,000 to the Women’s Rights Centre Foundation and an apology.
In July last year, the District Court in Warsaw ordered compensation of PLN 15,000, a payment of PLN 10,000 to the Women’s Rights Centre Foundation and an apology on the cover of ‘Gazeta Polska’. Sakiewicz appealed against this decision.
Today, the Court of Appeal in Warsaw legally upheld part of the District Court’s decision to compensate PLN 15,000 and pay PLN 10,000 to the Women’s Rights Centre Foundation. The court, however, changed the part of the decision regarding the publication of the apology, ruling that the statement of apology should be placed on the second page of the weekly newspaper, and not on the cover, as it was decided by the court of the first instance.
“The requirement to the editor-in-chief to place the entire text of the apology on the cover of the weekly goes, in the opinion of the Court of Appeal, beyond the proportionality necessary to eliminate the consequences of the damage caused to the plaintiff by this publication of a satirical work, that is, the cover,” the judge Edita Jefimko justified the decision.
The court of the second instance also did not satisfy Kramek’s demand to post a statement of apology on the website of ‘Gazeta Polska’ on a permanent basis.
In the part concerning property issues, the Warsaw Court of Appeal rejected Sakiewicz’s appeal. “Defamatory, stigmatising criticism with the use of a photograph, which was created for the propaganda purposes of a totalitarian state with reference to the symbolic figure of the Nazi invader, cannot be considered righteous and actually serve the public good. Thus, the regional court correctly concluded that the plaintiff’s personal non-property rights in the form of his business reputation, dignity and good name were violated. Therefore, he lawfully took legal remedies, applying property and non-property methods of such protection.”
As the court stressed, freedom of the press does not mean the right to attack by using satire containing defamatory content. “In judicial practice, the prevailing opinion is that the limits of protection of freedom of expression are the requirements of journalistic integrity, preservation of high art and professional ethics. In this case, these principles were violated due to the use of defamatory elements against the plaintiff on the cover,” said Judge Jefimko.
Sakiewicz and Kramek spoke after the verdict
Sakiewicz, commenting on the verdict, pointed to the gross, in his opinion, inequality of arms in the process. “In the hearing of the court of the first instance I was not allowed to take part in the trial at all, and neither were my witnesses and the judge made no secret of his sympathy for Kramek. The court of the second instance only “spruced up” the decision of the court of the first instance. Kramek could interrogate me and I could not interrogate him. I also couldn’t interrogate witnesses,” the journalist said. He added that satire is not punished in Poland and that the cover was satirical.
Bartosz Kramek, for his part, told Onet that he was pleased with the verdict, but believes that “the financial penalty should have been much tougher to have an educational effect”. “Government propaganda centres, to which ‘Gazeta Polska’ belongs, pretend to be the media, and make a fuss when they believe freedom of speech is threatened. It is difficult to find a greater confusion of concepts,” he said.
“Media functionaries defending the government portray themselves as journalists pursued by sinister, foreign, anti-Polish forces, which they heroically resist. They receive lavish salaries fighting real and imaginary enemies of the ruling party,” he assessed.
“Contrary to the narrative of ‘Gazeta Polska’, the media holding company of Tomasz Sakiewicz, backed by the institutions of one state party and facade institutions, party appendages in the form of the Polish Journalists Association and the so-called public media, is the decisive privileged party in this dispute. This is the system we are up against. There is an unequal power against us in almost every respect — from financial opportunities to media coverage,” Kramek concluded.
In other media:
- OKO.press: MEP Tarczynski and editor-in-chief of “Gazeta Polska”, Sakiewicz, lost their lawsuits against ODF. They must apologise (August 22, 2022)
- Gazeta Wyborcza: Libellers must apologise and pay for the cover story (August 12, 2022)
- Dziennik.pl: Sakiewicz must apologise for the cover of “Gazeta Polska”. There’s a court decision (August 11, 2022)