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While the official justification has not yet been made public, the court’s decision makes it clear that the allegations against "Wyborcza" presented by attorney Maciej Zaborowski on behalf of Mr Obajtek lacked substance. Contrary to the claims of Orlen’s CEO, publishing an article about his purchase of a luxury apartment at a PLN 1 million discount was not a violation of journalistic integrity.
"Wyborcza" revealed that shortly after Mr Obajtek signed a contract to purchase a nearly 200-square-meter penthouse in a prestigious location in Warsaw, PKN Orlen became a strategic sponsor of the Beniaminek Profbud Krosno Football Academy and the fourth league football club Partyzant Mal-Bud1 Targowiska, which the real estate developer has been financially supporting for years.
Publication ban does not merit consideration
The Warsaw District Court issued the ruling on June 8, 2021. The court accepted the appeal of Agora SA, the publisher of "Wyborcza", changing its verdict of March 29 and rejecting rejected Mr Obajtek’s bid to gag our editors and journalists. Strictly speaking: it dismissed his request to impose a one-year ban on publishing articles, as well as comments made via press, radio, television, the internet, and posts on Facebook or Twitter.
The lawsuit brought against "Wyborcza" is 123 pages long and concerns a single investigative article written by Paweł Figurski and Jarosław Sidorowicz entitled "Mr. Obajtek Got a Million-zloty Discount on an Apartment, and Orlen Became a Sponsor of the Real Estate Developer's Football Academy".
Earlier this year, the court of the first instance has already dismissed Mr Obajtek’s request for a ban on publication and ordered only that a note be placed next to the article stating that it was the subject of legal proceedings.
"The publication ban requested by the plaintiff (...) did not merit consideration because of the significance of public interest"- reads the justification for the March 29 ruling by the Warsaw District Court According to the court, the ban could not be imposed "as it would limit the freedom of the press and criticism, which, due to the nature of Mr Obajtek's public function, is socially desirable. Issuing such a ban would constitute an unjustified interference, exceeding permissible norms of a democratic society".
In dismissing Mr Obatek's motion, the court pointed out that it was all the more justified because "the plaintiff failed to present objective evidence clearly confirming that the discount he was given by the real estate developer was not as high as the article claimed it was".
Preferential treatment for Mr Obajtek
Since February 26, „Wyborcza" has been publishing investigative articles about Daniel Obajtek’s dubious business practices and his murky past.
On March 14, our journalists revealed that in exchange for Orlen's sponsorship of the Profbud Beniaminek Krosno Football Academy, Mr Obajtek received a nearly PLN 1 million discount on the purchase of a 187-square-meter luxury penthouse (while the official price listed by the real estate developer was PLN 12,499 per square meter, the Orlen CEO paid only PLN 6,900). What’s more, it turns out that Mr Obajtek and his partner put only PLN 500.000 down payment on the apartment, and the real estate developer credited the remaining PLN 800.000 for one year.
Attempts to silence "Wyborcza" with SLAPP suits
After publishing the articles, Mr Obajtek’s lawyer kept flooding "Wyborcza" with demands for rectification. At times, we received over a dozen official letters in a single day. All of them were signed by attorney Zaborowski
The legal strategy employed by Mr Zaborowski and his client is a classic example of Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP). These lawsuits are intended to draw media outlets into expensive legal battles, forcing them to fend off endless legal attacks such as civil and public lawsuits, unwarranted calls for rectification and apology, pre-trial subpoenas, etc., in order to prevent them from criticizing individuals and institutions that have the power and resources to carry out such attacks.
After the initial court decision regarding the article about Mr Obajtek’s PLN 1 million discount, the Orlen CEO took to Twitter and bragged about allegedly winning the case against "Wyborcza". He even tweeted a screenshot of the disputed article published on our website, modifying its original content to include a reference about the article being the subject of legal proceedings.
Despite Mr Obajtek’s claims that he has won the case, his lawyer filed a complaint against the court’s decision, requesting that the motion for an interim measure be granted in full, i.e. that "Wyborcza" would stop writing about Mr Obajtek’s assets. The District Court in Warsaw found the complaint unsubstantiated and dismissed it in its entirety on May 24.
Agora SA has also filed a complaint against the decision ordering Wyborcza.pl to publish a rectification, emphasizing that the 123-page lawsuit did not mention any specific fragments of the article containing false information and that the lawsuit does not refer to the literal content of the articles, but to the plaintiff's subjective impression.
In the end, the court upheld the complaint of Agora SA.
Every day, 400 journalists at Gazeta Wyborcza write verified, fact-checked stories about Polish politics and society, keeping a critical eye on the ruling camp’s persistent assault on democratic values and the rule of law; the growing cultural tension between religious fundamentalism and human rights; and the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic. Our journalists are on the front lines in 25 Polish cities, reporting from the streets, hospitals, and courtrooms about issues that move public opinion.
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