The first and second applicants, Mr Andrzej Stankiewicz and Malgorzata Solecka, were journalists, the third applicant, Presspublica sp. z o. o. was the publisher of daily newspaper Rzeczpospolita where the first and second applicants worked (collectively “the As”).
Following an approach from the chief executive of a large pharmaceutical company with information that the company had received a proposal to “arrange” the placement of its drug on the government list of refunded drugs in exchange for a bribe, the As published a story on the topic. This ran on the front and fourth pages of Rzeczpospolita under the headline “Drugs for millions of dollars” and the standfirst “A pharmaceutical company asserts that the Head of the Private Office of the Minister of Health demanded a large bribe”.
The story concerned WD, Head of the Private of Office of the minister for Health, who was said, in 2002, to have demanded a bribe from pharmaceutical company representatives, offering in return assistance in having one of the company’s drugs placed on the list of drugs refunded within the national health care scheme. This was alleged to have take place during the course of two meetings between companies which planned to set up a network of osteoporosis clinics in Poland at which WD was present.
The journalists sought comment from WD before publication, and put questions to him about his presence as a high-ranking State official at a business meeting between two companies. They included critical comments made by the Deputy Minister of Health responsible for drugs policy at the relevant time. And the article also carried a report on WD’s career entitled “Doctor, businessman, official”.
WD sued the As for infringement of his personal rights in the Warsaw Regional Court. He sought damages, to be paid to charity, on the basis that the information about the request for a bribe had been misleading and untrue, the allegations being based on unverified information originating from the pharmaceutical company. The As argued that the version of events in the article was credible, that they had observed due diligence in gathering the information, and that the article had been justified in the public interest. The court heard witnesses, including participants at the meeting. WD’s claim was dismissed.
As well as making detailed findings of fact about the circumstances of the meeting, the Regional Court held that the article had dealt with issues of public interest and that, while it had infringed WD’s personal rights, it had not been unlawful because the journalists had shown sufficient diligence in gathering and publishing the information and had acted in accordance with professional ethics. It held that the information the As had had at their disposal had been sufficiently reliable to justify the allegation.
WD appealed successfully to the Warsaw Court of Appeal. It focused on whether or not the journalists had respected the special diligence required of them under the Press Act in order to rebut the presumption of unlawfulness of the infringement of WD’s personal rights. It held that they had failed to observe this, and that the first-instance court had erroneously assessed the testimonies of certain witnesses. According to the Court of Appeal, the As’ conduct had been unlawful. They were ordered to publish an apology, and to pay court fees and costs.
The As lodged an appeal which was dismissed by the Supreme Court.
Following the publication of the article, the Warsaw Appellate Prosecutor Office opened an investigation in the case and went on to charge WD with bribery and procurement fraud. These proceedings were discontinued in 2007 for lack of evidence.