HFHR intervenes to protect journalistic sources
Following several cases of police officers entering homes of journalists, the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights asked the Chief Commissioner of the Warsaw Police to provide a legal basis for these visits and to indicate a legal good or interest that would justify such a far-reaching interference in journalists’ rights.
According to the investigative journalism portal OKO.press, actions of the police were related to a video recording made by the portal’s associates. The recording documented action of activists who entered on the stage during a performance of the Alexandrov Russian Army Song and Dance Ensemble to express their protest against Russian aggression on Ukraine.
OKO.press reports that the officers paid a visit to a camera operator, requesting the footage of the activists’ protest in Bydgoszcz, and obtained a pen drive with a record of the events. The police also approached Robert Kowalski, a journalist of OKO.press. He reportedly refused to refuse to release the footage but agreed to give a statement at a police station.
Protection of the reporter’s privilege is one of the fundamental guarantees of media freedom and freedom of expression. Without adequate guarantees for the protection of journalistic sources, the media would not be able to carry out its control function properly, which would be detrimental not only to this profession but to society as a whole.
The reporter’s privilege does not enjoy absolute protection but, according to international standards, this protection can only be restricted in exceptional cases on the grounds of overwhelming public interest that cannot be advanced by other, less intrusive means. A key guarantee of the reporter’s privilege is the requirement that any decision interfering with this privilege must be reviewed by a court or other independent body. Also Polish law sets out such a review procedure. Journalists may be interviewed as to the facts covered by the privilege only if this is necessary, in the interests of justice, and a given fact cannot be established on the basis of other evidence.
A search of residential premises is one of the most serious procedures that can be carried out during a criminal investigation. A search of the home of a person protected by the reporter’s privilege may violate not only the rules of criminal procedure but also the standards stemming from the case law of the ECtHR. In connection with the above, the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights asked the Chief Commissioner of the Warsaw Police to provide a legal basis for the above-described actions and to indicate a legal good or interest that would justify such a far-reaching interference in journalists’ rights.
This intervention action was performed as part of a project of legal aid for journalists and bloggers financed by Media Legal Defense Initiative.
The letter sent to the Chief Commissioner can be read here.