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- It was supposed to be my next opinion piece. Nothing out of the ordinary. Just another one on top of the several thousand op-eds I’ve written in the past. This one featured Daniel Obajtek. Of course, its tone was sarcastic, but you can take certain liberties with an oped. I write sarcastically, that’s my style- says Jan Miszczak, a journalist for the local daily “Nowiny” who has been working for the newspaper for over 20 years.

Recently, Mr Miszczak was fired after writing an opinion piece ridiculing Daniel Obajtek, the CEO of the state-run oil company Orlen, even though his text didn’t make it to print. According to the paper’s new editor-in-chief, the journalist has undermined public trust in the newspaper.

What did Mr Miszczak write in his oped? Among other things, this: "my undue dislike for Orlen CEO Daniel Obajtek was simply caused by the fact that I’ve let myself be fooled by independent media. Fortunately, in a show of his unparalleled management skills, Mr Obajtek was quick to act and their autonomy was stopped in time when Orlen bought up an entire range of regional titles published by the Polska Press media group, even though the state company is best known for producing oil and making sure that its CEO always has enough fuel in his own tank".

Later in his text, Mr Miszczak admits that he was wrong in thinking that Daniel Obajtek’s decision to purchase the media company has been motivated by financial incentives alone. Keeping his sarcastic tone, the journalist writes that Mr Obajtek "is by no means the best-paid comrade of the ruling party. He earns a meager PLN 5083".

„And since the gross average monthly wage in Poland is some PLN 5167.47, in terms of his income, he is basically your average Kowalski", the journalist wrote. Towards the end of his oped, however, Mr Miszczak pointed out that "while the average Polish taxpayer earns a little over PLN 5000 a month, these Law and Justice flunkies make as much ... in a day. The good news is, it would only take 25 years of saving every single penny for the average Pole to put aside the amount of money that the CEOs of state-run companies make in a year”.

Fired by e-mail for undermining public trust in the newspaper

- My text didn’t make it to print. I got the phone number of the new editor-in-chief (at beginning of May, the former chief editor has been replaced by Arkadiusz Rogowski, formerly a journalist working for the public broadcaster TVP in Rzeszów). I called him and heard that he was on a conference call and will call me back later. He didn't. He even refused to answer my calls.

Later that day, he wrote me a text message asking if I’ve read the e-mail he sent to my work mailbox. I did not. I then gave him my private email address. I got the e-mail, read it, and responded after 5 minutes– the journalist tells us.

The new head of “Nowiny” fired Mr Miszczak by e-mail. "Unfortunately, I have decided to end my cooperation with you because, as the editor-in-chief, I cannot allow a journalist or opinion writer to undermine public trust in our newspaper. I am referring to an excerpt from a text you’ve sent, entitled ‘Upside Down’: Fortunately, their autonomy was stopped in time’. Please understand that a journalist who undermines trust in a medium which he represents is an unacceptable situation, regardless of whether it is the press, television, radio, or a web portal. In fact, I am sure that you understand this perfectly well. What I do not understand, however, is why you suddenly forgot about it? Best regards and thank you for your cooperation”- reads the termination letter sent by Mr Rogowski.

Mr Miszczak’s response

Responding to the termination letter, Mr Miszczak wrote: "Dear Mr Rogowski, I have not forgotten a thing. I must admit that the accusation levelled against me – the fact that I have allegedly "undermined public trust in the newspaper"- has left me amused, because I’m perfectly aware of the actual reason behind your decision to fire me. Best regards, Jan Miszczak- a journalist with over 50 years of experience in this company”.

The editorial line was supposed to remain unchanged

Mr Miszczak says that because of the paper’s difficult financial situation, which the COVID-19 pandemic only made worse, he’s been writing for “Nowiny” practically pro bono: -They paid me enough to avoid a donations tax. I did it because of a feeling of solidarity with my colleagues. I didn’t want to leave them in need. All in all, I’ve been working for this media company for 52 years - he explains.

- This is not about me. It’s about the bigger picture. We were told that the editorial line will remain unchanged, even if they replace the chief editor. In the meantime, they got rid of me first because my op-eds ridiculed the absurdities of public life. They ridiculed all absurdities and every single government. I wonder, and in the editorial board they probably wonder too, who will be next in line.

Not the first time Mr Miszczak fell out of favor with PiS

It is already the second time in Mr Miszczak’s long journalistic career when he is being fired for what he wrote about the ruling camp.

Working as a reporter for the Polish Press Agency back in 2007, during the first Law and Justice government, he was fired for covering a homily delivered by Archbishop Józef Michalik. In it, the hierarch PiS for “failing the moral test by denying the right to protect life from the moment of conception”.

-The head of the press agency thought I had made a technical error by not including any information about the opposition. I was fired, although formally it was the result of a mutual agreement- says Mr Miszczak.

Orlen’s takeover of Polska Press

"Nowiny" is one of 20 regional dailies published by Polska Press- Poland's largest regional media group previously owned by the German Verlagsgruppe Passau. Other than the dailies, Polska Press controls some 150 local weeklies and 500 web portals. In February, Poland’s main antitrust authority (UOKiK) approved the takeover of Polska Press by the state-run oil company Orlen. The transaction was finalized at the beginning of March, but a month later the Court of Competition and Consumer Protection (a division of the District Court in Warsaw) suspended the unconditional approval of the president of UOKiK for the purchase. A motion to suspend the approval was submitted to the court by the Ombudsman Adam Bodnar.

The takeover of a dominant regional media publisher by a state-owned company is widely regarded as the realization of the ruling camp’s long-announced media “repolonization” plans. The former editor-in-chief of "Nowiny", Stanisław Sowa, was one of the three head editors who were sacked on April 29. Mr Sowa was the newspaper’s editor-in-chief for 15 years.

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