Channel Three journalist returns to work after disciplinary dismissal
In November 2016 Paweł Sołtys was dismissed on disciplinary grounds from Polish Radio Channel Three. The journalist filed a court action, contesting the dismissal. On the first hearing held in June, the parties settled the case. According to the terms of the settlement, the journalist will be reinstated to work in this week. Mr Sołtys is the first journalist dismissed on disciplinary grounds from a public media outlet who has returned to work after the 2016 media law reform.
As a gesture of courtesy to the HFHR, Agnieszka Lisiecka, an attorney with Wardyński i Wspólnicy, agreed to represent Mr Sołtys pro bono. The Foundation also joined the proceedings as a non-governmental organisation, in accordance with article 462 of the Code of Civil Procedure.
Support for journalists taken off air
The case started in October 2016, when two Channel Three news journalists – Anna Zaleśna-Sewera and Małgorzata Spór – were taken off air and transferred to posts at the archives of the Radio News Agency. A group of the Channel’s employees and contributors, including Paweł Sołtys (who, at the time, was the chair of the Trade Union of Journalists and Employees of Polish Radio Channels Three and Two), decided to express their solidarity with and support for the transferred journalists by, among other things, publishing black-and-white photos of themselves with covered mouths, with the „#kogoniesłychać” (“#whoissilenced”) hashtag.
On 28 November 2016, Paweł Sołtys’ employment was terminated on disciplinary grounds. The employer, Polskie Radio S.A., justified the termination by alleging that Mr Sołtys has been exerting psychological pressure on the Polish Radio’s Management Board, used “black PR” and attempted to “destabilise the work of the Board and the entire Polish Radio Corporation” by “publicly harassing the Board” with, e.g., “demands of mediation”. The journalist appealed against the dismissal to an employment court.
Trial and settlement
On Thursday, 29 June 2017, the District Court for the capital city of Warsaw conducted the first hearing in the case brought by Mr Sołtys against the Polish Radio Corporation. The court admitted the HFHR to the proceedings as a non-governmental organisation.
Ultimately, after a Board reshuffle in March 2017, the parties concluded a settlement. The Radio agreed to meet most of the journalist’s demands made in the statement of claims. In particular, he was reinstated to work at Channel Three on conditions preceding his dismissal. Polish Radio Corporation also agreed to pay to Mr Sołtys a sum that includes his salary for the period of dismissal and make a charitable payment of PLN 2,500 for the Free Speech Association. The employer revoked the official reprimand issued for Mr Sołtys prior to his dismissal.
Freedom of speech for journalists of public media – struggle in courts continues
The HFHR is monitoring cases of two other Channel Three journalists (and members of the Trade Union’s Board) – W. Dorosz and M. Majchrowski – who were dismissed on disciplinary grounds in circumstances similar to those surrounding termination of Mr Sołtys’ employment. Both proceedings are conducted by lawyers of Wardyński i Wspólnicy, who agreed to represent Foundation’s clients following our request. Apart from the above, the Foundation is involved in several other trials of journalists dismissed from public media outlets, among other things, for voicing concerns about the functioning of public media in the period following the infamous amendment of the media law. Currently, the cases of K. Dąbrowa, T. Zimoch and J. Sosnowski are pending. We will keep you posted on any further developments.