POLAND: Obstruction of journalist’s reporting of demonstration. HFHR submits amicus curiae brief

(Helsińska Fundacja Praw Człowieka) The HFHR has filed an amicus curiae brief before the Regional Court in Kraków in a case concerning the conduct of several participants of a monthly commemoration of the Smolensk catastrophe towards a journalist reporting on the event, Gazeta Wyborcza’s Paweł Figurski.

On 10 August 2017, a number of demonstrators started insulting the reporter as soon as they identified him as a Gazeta’s journalist. A rally-goer grabbed Mr Figurski’s phone used to record the demonstration but soon after returned it to the reporter.

The journalist notified a prosecutor’s office, saying that he felt threatened during the demonstration. The prosecutor’s office closed the investigation in September 2018, but the journalist appealed to the court against the decision to close the case.

On 8 August 2019, the court will examine the journalist’s appeal and decide whether the prosecution service should reopen the case.

The important role of the media covering protests

In its amicus curiae brief the HFHR emphasised that the coverage of protests is a crucial responsibility of journalists who perform the role of “public watchdogs” in a democratic society and that members of the media should be given special protection in this area. The HFHR has already spoken on several cases where the freedom to report on demonstrations was threatened. The Foundation intervened in a case of protesters obstructing a reporter from performing his professional duties (see the article HFHR comments on behaviour hindering work of TVP Info journalist), in a case of journalists arrested while covering a protest (HFHR statement regarding arrest of journalists in head office of State Electoral Commission), or in a case of a physical attack against a journalist (Reporter working in Białowieża Forest attacked).

Obligation to ensure the safety of journalists and to explain in detail actions targeting journalists

The HFHR also pointed out in its brief that the personal safety of journalists is an essential condition for the free dissemination of information and the fulfilment of their mission. If there the safety of a media representative has already been compromised, the public authorities are obliged to take appropriate measures to explain the circumstances of the event. In particular, state authorities must carefully examine all possible links between the act in question and the victim’s journalistic activities.

The brief stressed that in the case of Mr Figurski, it seems particularly important to examine the issue of the grabbing of the telephone he used to record the event, not only in the light of the unlawful seizure of property but above in the context of whether the act in question might have been an obstruction to the collection of media content.

We also invite our readers to take a look at the HFHR’s opinion statement The Media Coverage of Demonstrations – International Standards.

The case is conducted as part of a project of legal aid for journalists and bloggers financed by Media Legal Defense Initiative.