An article that presented opposition criticism of a government minister has disappeared from the website of a newspaper that is among dozens of local media outlets purchased two years ago by state energy giant Orlen.
No official reason has been given, but an inside source told another media outlet that the newspaper was pressured by the ruling party to remove the article. When Orlen bought into the media market, many experts warned that it would use its publications to support the ruling party.
Norway’s sovereign wealth fund has placed Polish state oil giant Orlen – which it owns a stake in – under observation over the „risk that the company contributes to serious violations of human rights” through its ownership of dozens of Polish media outlets https://t.co/KnQAAeTiQD
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) February 23, 2023
On Thursday last week, Kurier Lubelski, a newspaper covering the Lublin province, reported on a campaign organised by Maja Zaborowska, an election candidate for the opposition Civic Coalition (KO), to have education minister Przemysław Czarnek declared persona non grata in Lublin.
In Kurier Lubelski’s report – an archived version of which is still available on Google – Zaborowska is quoted accusing Czarnek of politicising schools and of standing “in clear contradiction…to the values of equality, accessibility and anti-discrimination”.
The newspaper also approached Czarnek himself – who before becoming education minister was governor of Lublin province – for comment. He told them that, “in a democracy, even such unwise people [as Zaborowska] can speak freely, even if they embarrass themselves so terribly”.
However, although a link to the article remains visible on Kurier Lubelski’s Facebook page and when using the search function on the newspaper’s website, clicking on it leads either to an error message or to a homepage. Other articles on the website continue to work as normal.
Onet, a leading national news website, reports that the article was removed by Kurier Lubelski just a few hours after being published. It quotes an unnamed inside source saying that the decision was made under pressure from the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party.
“There was pressure from PiS,” said the source. “Apparently, the editorial office received a message from someone in the ruling party…The decision to remove the text from the website was made by deputy editor-in-chief Tomasz Nieśpiał. He did not inform anyone about this, including the author of the material.”
Zaborowska told Onet that “it is outrageous and unacceptable that inconvenient articles can be removed from the internet on party orders”. She added that “this situation confirms that Kurier Lubelski and the media belonging to Polska Press have nothing to do with independence”.
Gazeta Orlenu zdejmuje nieprzychylny tekst o Przemysławie Czarnku. „Były naciski z PiS” https://t.co/bOhnkTHTlo
— Onet Wiadomości (@OnetWiadomosci) September 4, 2023
Polska Press is a media group that publishes hundreds of local newspapers and websites, including Kurier Lubelski. In 2021, Orlen – which is Poalnd’s largest firm – bought Polska Press from its previous German owner.
At the time, opposition figures and media experts warned that Orlen would use its new media outlets to support the ruling party, much as public media already do. The new owner removed many previous editors-in-chief and replaced them with figures more closely aligned with PiS.
In July this year, a report by the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights based on interviews with current and former journalists working within Polska Press found that, since Orlen’s takeover, the group’s titles have seen “unprecedented interference…most often in a way that was favourable to the ruling majority”.
Many of the interviewees noted that it is often the deputy editor-in-chief who acts most strongly to protect the ruling party’s interests.
2/2 W raporcie zidentyfikowano 5 form ograniczania swobody dziennikarskiej, m. in.: faworyzowanie rządzącej większości, marginalizowanie opozycji, ograniczanie tematów wrażliwych z perspektywy rządzącej większości, pozamerytoryczne ingerencje w teksty dziennikarzy
— Helsińska Fundacja Praw Człowieka (@hfhrpl) July 12, 2023
When contacted by Onet, Nieśpiał, Kurier Lubelski’s deputy editor, did not answer his phone. After the news website got through to the head of Polska Press in Lublin, Aureliusz Mikos, he hung up when he learned what they wanted to ask him about.
Kurier Lubelski has not issued any explanation for the disappearance of the article. Czarnek himself told Onet that he had known nothing about the article being removed and had had nothing to do with the decision.
Notes from Poland is run by a small editorial team and published by an independent, non-profit foundation that is funded through donations from our readers. We cannot do what we do without your support.
Main image credit: Kurier Lubelski (screenshot)
Daniel Tilles is editor-in-chief of Notes from Poland. He has written on Polish affairs for a wide range of publications, including Foreign Policy, POLITICO Europe, EUobserver and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.