US Journalist Harassed

The World Press Freedom Committee made a Fund Against Censorship grant to Poland-based US journalist Preston Smith, a reporter for the English-language Poland Monthly magazine, who is the target of a campaign of judicial harassment, including a gag order, several civil and criminal defamation suits and physical intimidation.

World Press Freedom Committee administers the Fund Against Censorship on behalf of the nine-member Coordinating Committee of Press Freedom Organizations.

Since October of 2003, Smith and Poland Monthly have been publishing a series of articles detailing with alleged improprieties at Poland's state-controlled insurance agency, PZU. The articles have focused on a series of allegedly illegal offshore accounts set up by several PZU presidents, as well as a structure of shell companies that enabled money to be funneled out of PZU.

Since the articles appeared, PZU officials have tried to silence Smith and his publication in court. First, they were hit with a gag order prohibiting them to write about PZU activities, which stood in place until last January when it was ruled illegal and unconstitutional by a court. Also, at least three criminal libel and defamation suits have been filed by PZU officials against Smith and Poland Monthly, demanding up to USD 600,000 in fines. One of the laws used to indict them is a Communist-era statute that requires a journalist to ask permission from a subject before writing about him/her in the press.

Smith has also been the target of police harassment and has received threats that a bomb would be placed under his wife's car. In March his apartment was ransacked in an apparent search for compromising documents.

"We find it disturbing that a journalist and a publication must go through so much trouble in order to fulfill their duty to keep the public informed in a member country of the European Union," said Mark Bench, WPFC's Executive Director. "We hope this Fund Against Censorship contribution to Preston Smith will help him mount a solid legal challenge in Polish courts."

"I think most journalists would rather go to a war zone than deal with endless court dates and preparations," Smith said. "The costs of dealing with simultaneous cases and the translation costs have really been tough for our magazine -and for me personally- to deal with. Unfortunately, frivolous lawsuits are quite common in Poland. Most of the top investigative journalists here have between six and 12 cases at any one time."


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Angela Franke
United Kingdom

Preston has done the right thing. He would be prostiting himself to the system if he withheld the facts. The truth will prevail!!!!

Reply Feb 12th, 2008
Peggy Smith
United States

Preston Smith is my son. He is still fighting the same court cases. It has taken a lot of his energy, time and money. In effect, doing what he thinks a journalist should do--print †he facts--has placed his life on hold. I have encouraged him to give up on journalism and the Polish legal sys†em, As far as I'm concernd †he price has already been to high for him and his family.

Reply Oct 22nd, 2007