Magazine article Nieman Reports

In Poland, Pressures Plague Investigative Reporting: 'Most Censorship Is of an "Inner" Nature. Journalists Self-Censor Because They Are Aware of Their Employer's Political Position and Thus Do Not Submit Stories in Opposition to It.'

Magazine article Nieman Reports

In Poland, Pressures Plague Investigative Reporting: 'Most Censorship Is of an "Inner" Nature. Journalists Self-Censor Because They Are Aware of Their Employer's Political Position and Thus Do Not Submit Stories in Opposition to It.'

Article excerpt

On April 10, 2010 an airplane with President Lech Kaczynski, his wife, and dozens of other Polish leaders crashed in Smolensk, Russia. All 96 passengers died. This event became an important exam for the Polish media--it was an exam we failed.

Investigative journalism in Poland is moderately young--only about 20 years old. After 1989 and the fall of Communism, new titles for journalists emerged and along with them a lot of intelligent and ambitious reporters who produced captivating investigative stories. Each year a few big publications revealed corruption in politics, sports organizations, medical institutions, shady businesses, or organized crime. The Grand Press Award for the best investigative story of the year was a big event with huge competition. However, about three years ago Polish investigative journalism started to die. Now, as the time of the Grand Press contest approaches, people wonder: Is there any investigative story that could be granted this prestigious award?

When someone calls me an investigative journalist, I say, "No, I am just a journalist who has worked on a few investigative stories." If asked how many investigative journalists there are in Poland, I answer, "None, even though many reporters have done some investigative stories."

In 2006 my colleagues at "Superwizjer," a magazine show on Poland's commercial station TVN, investigated the Polish-Russian gas deal. It took them two years and travel to several countries to prepare a 30-minute film--"Russian Mafia, Polish Government and Gas." Today I don't know any Polish media outlet that would decide to do it. By "it" I refer to allowing journalists to work on one story for such a long time, paying them every month for material that will not be ready soon, plus covering all of their expenses for research, filming, traveling, establishing relationships, and meeting with sources. Nor would a news organization assume the risk of legal problems that would be encountered after such a story is published.

Is it not wiser to have those journalists prepare less revealing and less important news stories and produce those more often? Costs are lower and the product exists almost immediately. That is how most editors think these days so it is no surprise that of the four large Polish TV channels, only one carries a program with investigative stories.

However, the fault doesn't lie only with how editors think. The weak point in the Polish news media is that few journalists have employment contracts. I had an employment contract for only two years out of the decade I have been a journalist. Many reporters sign a monthly contract to perform a particular task. This gives them neither stability nor security; it also makes them struggle for every penny. And it affects the way managers assign stories--fewer, shorter, faster.

Many investigative journalists decided they didn't want to do essentially assembly-line production work on stories and switched to public relations work or what they call "strategic solutions." In a recent poll by the Institute for Media Monitoring (Instytut Monitorowania Mediow) and the Polish Journalists Association (Stowarzyszenie Dziennikarzy Polskich), 42 percent of the journalists who responded indicated that they were considering leaving the profession. Money was one factor; others included the media being political, attempts from outsiders to manipulate the media, and too many fellow journalists acting in unprofessional ways--by pursuing stories that are sensational, lacking adequate preparation for their jobs, copying and pasting the work of others, and ignoring the basics of reporting, such as needing two sources before publishing a story.

Newsroom Budgets

There are more questions to be answered about what happened with the president's plane. Most of the Polish news media sent reporters to Smolensk in Russia on the day of the catastrophe. Later, only two or three newsrooms allowed their journalists to go back to investigate the crash. …

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