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13 October 2016
Polish law protects personal rights, such as an individual's image, reputation, freedom and dignity. In case of infringement, the aggrieved party can, among other things, request an injunction and demand a relevant statement and compensation for moral damages. The compensation awarded should be discretionally decided by the courts, which usually base their assessment on the facts of the case and the criteria established in case law. To date, the amount of compensation awarded has been rather moderate. However, a recent Warsaw Regional Court judgment suggests imminent change in this regard and should be considered an important step towards settling the conflict between personal rights and freedom of the press.
On August 24 2016 the Warsaw Regional Court ruled that one of Poland's major daily tabloids had infringed the personal interests of the wife of a Polish TV presenter. In 2012 the tabloid had accused her, together with the wife of a Polish politician, of stealing luxury clothing from a boutique in Florida. The tabloid had described their arrest and published mug shots and comment pieces on the story. The story had featured in the tabloid for several months and had also been covered by other media outlets. The women in question did not deny that they had been detained by police; however, they claimed that they were innocent and that the situation had been the result of a police mistake. They sued the tabloid for infringement of their personal interests.
The regional court judgment was severe. The court ordered the tabloid to:
The judgment invoked mixed reactions from commentators. The compensation awarded was relatively high (although not record breaking), but the court's decision regarding the publication of the apology was the most controversial point. The substitution of the tabloid's front page, which is crucial for sales, with an apology for 30 consecutive days appeared extreme to many commentators. Conversely, under Polish law, the publication of an apology serves to counteract the consequences of an infringement. As the alleged theft had been the most popular news story for some time and reached a wide audience, the court decision was not completely unjustified.
Opponents of the decision argued that this form of apology could be harmful to the tabloid's business interests and was contrary to the constitutional freedom of the press. However, the tabloid press had not been afraid of potentially crossing the line when reporting on gossip previously, as court-ordered apologies had not significantly damaged their business. However, this approach may change if other courts adopt the Warsaw Regional Court's position.
The judgment is not binding and the tabloid has already confirmed that it will appeal the decision. The case could also be heard by the Supreme Court, as it appears that the criteria for settling the conflict between two constitutional principles (ie, freedom of the press and personal rights) must be defined more clearly. This will not be an easy task, as the recent judgment appears to have had as many supporters as opponents.
For further information on this topic please contact Szymon Gogulski or Mikolaj Skowronek at Soltysinski Kawecki & Szlezak by telephone (+48 22 608 7000) or email (email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org). The Soltysinski Kawecki & Szlezak website can be accessed at www.skslegal.pl.
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