Polish media outfit Gazeta Wyborcza and its foundation win top press freedom award

Gazeta Wyborcza editor-in-chief Adam Michnik (left). The Polish news organisation and its foundation were awarded the Golden Pen of Freedom. PHOTO: WAN-IFRA

ZARAGOZA, Spain - Polish news organisation Gazeta Wyborcza and the Gazeta Wyborcza foundation were on Wednesday awarded the World Association of News Publishers' (Wan-Ifra) annual award which recognises efforts to uphold press freedom.

In awarding the Golden Pen of Freedom to the publication, which was founded in 1989 as Communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe were upended, Wan-Ifra noted that Gazeta Wyborcza has faced down numerous challenges to deliver independent journalism and reliable coverage.

Projects by the Gazeta Wyborcza Foundation, set up in 2019 to safeguard the publication's future and strengthen quality journalism, have denounced neo-fascist organisations, fought disinformation, polarisation, and xenophobia, and supported local and regional media to produce investigative journalism, Wan-Ifra noted.

The foundation has also been coordinating critical financial and technical support to Ukrainian journalists following Russia's invasion of Ukraine which began on Feb 24.

The Gazeta Wyborcza Foundation's Ukrainian Media Fund has helped deliver newsprint to Ukraine, and is now financing 50 Ukrainian media outlets with the help of Nordic media and a grant from the Swedish government.

In accepting the award on behalf of the foundation, Ms Joanna Krawczyk, head of partnerships at Gazeta Wyborcza and president of the board of the foundation, said that recent events have shown "the scale of the challenges facing our democracies" .

"We often say nowadays: Be brave like Ukrainian journalists, so let's be brave in our decision not to leave Ukrainian media alone. Let's not leave any independent media facing oppression alone."

Accepting the award on behalf of the Gazeta Wyborcza newsroom, Mr Piotr Stasinski, former deputy editor-in-chief and current special media advisor to the Gazeta Wyborcza Foundation, said: "Under PiS (Law and Justice Party) rule, media freedom in Poland has been seriously infringed. Already, we see a growing chilling effect; and a decreasing number of media outlets that are free and independent."

The award was announced at a ceremony in Zaragoza by Mr Warren Fernandez, editor of The Straits Times and President of the World Editors Forum, the network for editors within Wan-Ifra. The event was also attended by King Felipe VI of Spain, who presented the award.

Wan-Ifra is holding the World News Media Congress 2022 in Zaragoza this week.

"Each of our laureates, stretching back to the very first Pen, embodies a set of values that underpin our industry," said Mr Fernandez, who is also editor-in-chief of SPH Media Trust's English, Malay and Tamil media group.

"Increasingly challenged, these values are defended worldwide by journalists, editors, and news publishers who recognise the importance of free media… in safeguarding the well-being, and proper functioning of our societies and democracies," he added.

Gazeta Wyborcza is today one of Poland's few remaining independent news titles. It has come under constant attack from the authorities, and Wan-Ifra said it faces around 100 legal challenges. It has a daily print circulation of 70,000 and 300,000 digital subscribers.

Spain's King Felipe VI (left) giving the Golden Pen of Freedom award to Gazeta Wyborcza Foundation president Joanna Krawczyk and special media adviser Piotr Stasinski (right) in Zaragoza on Sept 28, 2022. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Said Mr Fernandez: "A media house that faces down dozens upon dozens of lawsuits from government and its allies, and counters regular efforts to undermine its integrity; one that has established a foundation to ensure a future whereby its work reaches far beyond its circulation - all of this has required leadership, purpose, and courage.

"Gazeta Wyborcza and the Gazeta Wyborcza Foundation are showing us the way, providing just that, showing there is indeed "no freedom without solidarity."

The Golden Pen of Freedom is Wan-Ifra's annual award recognising individuals or organisations that have made an outstanding contribution to the defence and promotion of press freedom.

Previous winners have included media tycoon Jimmy Lai and the staff of the now shuttered Apple Daily in Hong Kong, who got the award in 2021; assassinated Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who received it posthumously in 2019; as well as leading editors Maria Ressa of the Philippines and Dmitry Muratov of Russia, who received the awards in 2018 and 2016 respectively.

Both Ms Ressa and Mr Muratov were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2021.

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