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Dear readers and friends of Gazeta Wyborcza,
The last six years have been exceedingly difficult for independent media, and in particular press outlets, in Poland. Despite these challenging circumstances, here at Wyborcza we have always strived not to bother our readers with the problems we were facing. We know that under the oppressive rule of the Law and Justice party you have enough of those on your own.
This time, however, we no longer have the luxury to keep to ourselves. Gazeta Wyborcza, after all, is all of you - our readers, subscribers, and long-time friends - and therefore you have the right to know what is happening under our roof.
Thanks to the incredible effort by our team and your generous belief in the values we represent we now have more than 260 thousand online subscribers, which puts us squarely among the top ten European (and top twenty global) outlets in terms of paid subscriptions.
This gives us a stable revenue stream and even allows us to turn a profit, which we are anxious to reinvest in our editorial room to ensure that we continue to provide you the quality journalism that you expect of us. In short, with your support we have successfully transitioned to the new era of journalism. Now that success is turning into a threat, as we achieved something scorned by authoritarian parties and greedy, myopic corporations alike: independence.
The ruling camp we can handle. Despite the plethora of lawsuits (more than 70 since 2015), continued attacks by the government-controlled media, economic pressure and numerous attempts to intimidate and silence our journalists, we press on. The war waged against us by the Law and Justice party was and continues to be predictable. They perceive us as enemies, and indeed, we are against those who continue to dismantle our democratic institutions.
Sparring with those who pretend to be our allies and declare their affection and willingness to help, on the other hand, is trickier. Lord, protect us from our friends, we can take care of our enemies.
For the last five months we have been working tirelessly to put an end to the worst internal crisis in the history of Gazeta Wyborcza, brought about by the board of directors of our parent company Agora S.A. On June 8, 2021, the CEO of Agora Bartosz Hojka decided - suddenly and without any consultation with Gazeta Wyborcza - to fire our publisher and the architect of our digital transformation Jerzy Wójcik. His endgame was to merge us with the free, ad-based outlet Gazeta.pl, thus forging a mixture of two completely mismatched business and content models to the detriment of everything we have succeeded to build over the last three decades.
The board of directors was looking for cost cutting measures; a merger would allow it to fire numerous journalists as part of the so-called "synergies". As part of the process, Gazeta Wyborcza would also lose control over our subscribers' data and analytics divisions. Without it, we would be flying blind and lose our financial independence - both now and in the future.
Mr Hojka informed us of his intentions mere hours before their official announcement to the shareholders. It was only thanks to the remarkable solidarity of our entire team, editorial board and numerous external friends and supporters of Wyborcza that we managed to arrest this monumental moral, political and business blunder.
Over the last month, the situation appeared to head towards a welcome, if relative, de escalation. As we know now, it was nothing but a calm before the storm, since the board of directors was simply regrouping to prepare before relaunching its assault.
On Tuesday, November 23, Bartosz Hojka suddenly announced that Jerzy Wójcik was fired on disciplinary grounds, effective immediately. You are familiar with how such a procedure goes. Now it takes place remotely, in a matter of seconds. After thirty years of working for Wyborcza, Mr Wójcik received a brief e-mail, followed by immediate deactivation of his work ID, corporate mobile phone, laptop, credit card, and the very email account used to relay the news of his firing. No due process, no avenues to seek justification or appeal to the decision. This is "ethics" in practice at a company whose management is proud to underline its moral high ground on all occasions. What it offers instead is ordinary maltreatment of a devoted employee with an extraordinary record of achievements.
If the board of directors of Agora showed the same level of determination in focusing on its actual job of successfully managing the company as it mobilized in its efforts to hunt down the publisher of Gazeta Wyborcza, Agora’s stock would be trading at $200 a share, and not $2.
The executive board is trying to frame this as purely a personal conflict - a rogue manager who is impossible to work with being banished for the sake of the company's health and future development. This is facetious. The real issue at stake is the answer to the question "Who does Wyborcza belong to?".
Does it belong to readers and those who spent their entire lives working tirelessly to build an outlet that prides itself on quality journalism? Or does it belong to accountants looking at the world through the narrow window of an Excel spreadsheet?
WIll Wyborcza continue to be a home for all those invested in liberal democratic values, or will it be transformed into a single-minded revenue generating vehicle? In less abstract terms - are profits made by Wyborcza going to be reinvested in the outlet to ensure it continues to provide high quality journalism, or are they going to be captured by the board of directors and shifted to fund other branches of Agora S.A. portfolio and pay bonuses and dividends?
Will Wyborcza be able to compete on the rapidly modernizing media market with outlets that receive generous investments from their global parent companies, or will it be condemned to be seen as - in the words of the chairman of Agora’s Supervisory Board - "mere 13% of our entire portfolio", third fiddle within a conglomerate focused on maximizing revenue from fast food chains and popcorn for moviegoers.
For now, we are being held hostage by people suffering from the "mere 13 percent" mentality.
What is the point of all this? Is their endgame to destroy Gazeta Wyborcza, destabilize our team, weaken our brand, and therefore neutralize our efforts to protect democracy in Poland during a time when the ruling camp is hell bent on destroying its foundations?
We would like to publicly ask all members the board of directors - Bartosz Hojka, Anna Kryńska, Tomasz Jagiełło, Tomasz Grabowski, Agnieszka Siuzdak, as well as their patron-saint, Wanda Rapaczyński - are you acting out of perverse vindictiveness? Out of stupidity? Or are you simply lost?
We have no answer to this. We do not know what are their true motives or who is the driving force behind this assault. All we know is that the board of directors is acting to the detriment of Gazeta Wyborcza and puts the future of our outlet in danger. The board is filled with people who have absolutely no idea how to run a modern, digital media outlet, and yet just decided to fire a preeminent specialist and practitioner with a track record of remarkable success simply because he refused to be their bootlicker.
The firing of Mr Jerzy Wójcik on disciplinary grounds was conducted in violation of Polish labor law and is therefore ineffective. On November 25, Gazeta Wyborcza editor-in-chief Adam Michnik appointed Mr Jerzy Wójcik to serve as deputy editor-in-chief of Wyborcza in charge of development. If the board of directors attempts to stop Mr Wójcik from fulfilling the duties assigned to him by the editor-in-chief, we will have no choice but to see this as yet another attempt to destroy the independence of Gazeta Wyborcza.
Alas, we no longer expect anything good from this board of directors. It is for this reason that we address this letter not to them, but to you - the real owners of Gazeta Wyborcza.
The only things left for the board of directors are not to meddle in our affairs, spin us off as a separate company, or offer their resignation. They refuse to do any of them.
It is for this reason that we declare that as the management of Gazeta Wyborcza we have lost all trust in the board of directors of Agora S.A. and therefore present a motion of no confidence towards it.
Further coverage on the ongoing conflict between Gazeta Wyborcza’s editorial staff and the management board of Agora S.A.
- Open letter signed by the Members of the Council of Editors of „Gazeta Wyborcza"
- Statement of solidarity with Wyborcza’s editorial staff issued by the Members of the Committee for Editorial Independence of the Economia media house
- "It is Difficult to See the Actions of Agora S.A. as Anything Other Than an Attack on the Editorial Independence of Gazeta Wyborcza" – Statement of the Institute of Public Affairs
- "Running a Media Outlet is not Like Running a Nuts and Bolts Factory" – Adam Pieczyński’s commentary on the conflict inside Agora S.A.
- "In the Face of Unbridgeable Differences, Wyborcza Should be Allowed to Go Its Own Way" – Open letter by Szymon Gutkowski and Maciej Kisilowski
- Statement of the Management Board of the Polish Judges Association „Iustitia"
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.
We decided to make our service available to everyone free of charge in order to provide access to high quality journalism for expats and English speakers interested in Polish affairs.
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