Documentarian denied access to Sejm seeks judicial review
The HFHR has become involved in the case of the documentary filmmaker Konrad Szołajski, who led a crew that wanted to shoot footage for a film on the Parliament’s premises. The filmmaker twice applied for a press pass that would allow him to enter the Parliament grounds, but his both requests were denied by the Speaker of the Sejm.
Konrad Szołajski appealed against the most recent denial to the Provincial Administrative Court in Warsaw. Mr Maciej Ślusarek, a lawyer from Leśnodorski, Ślusarek i Wspólnicy agreed to represent the appellant in judicial review proceedings at the request of the HFHR.
Speaker: they are not journalists
According to the Speaker of the Sejm, it was not possible to issue press passes to documentary filmmakers, who, in the Speaker’s opinion, are not journalists within the meaning of the Press Law Act, despite the fact that the footage was supposed to be broadcast by several media outlets, including Swedish television. “Indeed, Konrad Szołajski and his team acted as journalists because they prepared, under the authority of a broadcaster, a documentary film that was designed to be aired on TV. Given the above, there was no reason to deny them press passes”, Konrad Siemaszko, HFHR lawyer, analyses the case.
Judicial remedy to ensure access to Sejm
Journalists’ access to Parliament is particularly important for the exercise of freedom of expression in a democratic society. The activities of the legislature must be scrutinised not only by other state bodies but also by the media and the general public. Therefore, the rules governing the issuance of press passes, which enable journalists to enter the Sejm, are particularly important for the implementation of the right to obtain information on the activities of public authorities and for the freedom of expression. “In our opinion, a refusal to issue a press pass is subject to judicial review. Without the option of a judicial review of the Speaker’s decision, the guarantees of the right to information and freedom of the press could be illusory in the parliamentary setting”, Mr Siemaszko explains.
Restricted access to Parliament – worrying trend
The HFHR emphasizes that it is necessary to develop a transparent policy of media access to the Parliament as well as the rules that would govern the use of judicial remedies against decisions made by the Speaker of the Sejm in this respect. This is particularly important in view of the recurring cases of impediments placed on journalists’ and citizens’ access to the Sejm. An example of such restrictions is the increasingly frequent practice of temporary suspension of the issuance of single-entry passes. The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights has pointed out on several occasions that such actions have an adverse impact on the right to information and freedom of speech: we referred, among other things, to the restrictions on access during the protest of persons with disabilities and their carers in May 2018, or the changes in the organisation of the media access to the Sejm that were announced in December 2016, but ultimately discarded following widespread opposition.
The case of Konrad Szołajski is being conducted as part of HFHR’s project of legal aid for journalists and bloggers.