Journalist purge to restore media monopoly

Selected, “trusted” journalists were allowed to work in the editorial offices. Others were put on leave, over 100 journalists and other media workers were interned.

“You have decided that the editor-in-chief determines who they want to work with and only those should be subject to the vetting process, others are already eliminated. This rule seems justified because the editor-in-chief should decide who they want to work with. But they will get rid of those they don’t want, using various criteria, not necessarily political ones, and not necessarily fair. They will sack those who are not useful or with whom they are in conflict. Ok, but this dismissal shouldn’t automatically lead to a professional elimination, because someone who is unwanted by this editor, or who doesn’t fit into this editorial office, might be perfect elsewhere. My point is that political control should be applied to the staff that the chief editor gets rid of. Otherwise, under the current system, the editor-in-chief will have a one-man power of elimination, not from the editorial board, but from the profession” – wrote government spokesman Jerzy Urban to the head of the Press, Radio and Television Department of the Central Committee of the Polish United Workers’ Party [abbr. PZPR] Lesław Tokarski on January 1, 1982.

This passage from his letter perfectly encapsulates what the vetting process of the journalistic milieu was to be AD 1982. It was conceived as a purely political purge. The plan was to cleanse the media of those who, during the so-called “Carnival of Solidarity” of 1980-1981, revolted against the communist authorities, whose media monopoly had been seriously violated. Martial law and the sacking of the rebels from press, radio & TV were intended to restore it.

It should be recalled here that on December 13, 1981, the publication of all press titles as well as radio and television programs was suspended, with the exception of two central newspapers (“Trybuna Ludu” – an organ of the Central Committee of the PZPR and “Żołnierz Wolności”), 16 party newspapers in voivodeships and Program I of the Polish Radio and Television. Radio and Television were militarised – the buildings of these institutions were taken over by the army, and their rule was largely taken over by military commissioners. Selected, “trusted” journalists were allowed to work in active editorial offices (e.g. at Polish Radio [PR] it was a group led by Aleksander Lubański from the Chief Editorial Office of PR Information), the rest were put on leave, over 100 journalists and other media workers were interned.

Everyone had to speak the same

Over time, most media activity was resumed. Nevertheless, over twenty editorial offices, including: “Kultura”, “Trybuna Mazowiecka”, “Gazeta Handlowa” and “Gazeta Budowlanych” were dissolved. The “rebellious” Association of Polish Journalists was first suspended, then, at the end of March 1982 it was dissolved, and in its place a new organisation, strictly subordinated to the party, was created – the Association of Journalists of the Polish People’s Republic. Only selected employees could work in the media regained by the communist authorities during martial law. For this purpose, the 1982 vetting process or “verification” (as it called in Polish) was used.
Dziennik Telewizyjny presenter Marek Tumanowicz in 1981. During martial law in 1981–1982, he appeared in a military uniform, which was his idea. After the changes in 1989, President Andrzej Drawicz appointed him programme director. Photo: PAP / Jan Morek
Its principles were adopted no later than in the first days of martial law, and it is possible that even before its introduction. It was agreed that it would be carried out by teams appointed by: the Central Information and Propaganda Staff, the provincial information and propaganda staffs, the Central Committee of the Democratic Party – SD, and the Supreme Committee of the United People’s Party – ZSL (both in consultation with the Central Information and Propaganda Staff). The purpose of the “verification” was to “obtain a clear view” of the position of journalists and other employees of the press, agencies, radio and television on the following issues: the leading role of the party in the socio-political and economic life of the country, the leading role of the PZPR, SD and ZSL in the mass media, activities of the Association of Polish Journalists in 1980-1981, those of “Solidarity”, the Workers’ Defense Committee, the Confederation of Independent Poland and other “anti-socialist groups”, as well as “the basic principles of the foreign policy of the Polish People’s Republic”. In the case of radio and television, there was also “the attitude towards the resolution of the Council of Ministers No. 185 on the uninterrupted functioning of PR and TV (signing the resolution, attitude towards protest actions and strikes)”.

The composition of the “verification” committees was also precisely determined. In the case of the central press and press agencies, these were to be representatives of: Press, Radio and Television Department of the Central Committee of the Polish United Workers’ Party, Warsaw Committee of the Polish United Workers’ Party, Main Political Board of the Polish Army [GZP WP], Ministry of Internal Affairs, Main Board of the Workers’ Publishing Cooperative “Press-Book-Movement” and the Central Office for Publications and Audience Control [GUKPiW]. For people employed in the Committee for Radio and Television in Warsaw, there were representatives of: Press, Radio and Television Department of the Central Committee of the Polish United Workers’ Party, Warsaw Committee of the Polish United Workers’ Party, GZP WP, Ministry of Internal Affairs, management of the Radio Committee and GUKPiW. In turn, representatives of the management of a given party, Central Information and Propaganda Staff, GZP WP, Ministry of Internal Affairs, GUKPiW would have been responsible for “verifying” journalists from the ZSL and SD press. This meant that a wide range of people took part in these political purges. In the Committee for Radio and Television alone, 33 main teams and 103 subcommittees were established to carry them out, employing over 570 people. By the way: “verification” in PR and TVP was two-stage – first, functional journalists (editors-in-chief, their deputies and managers of individual editorial offices) were subjected to “verification”, in the second stage, other employees were vetted (with the participation of positively screened functional journalists).

The “verification” consisted of individual interviews aimed at examining the position of individual employees towards “Solidarity”, martial law and the mass media model. Theoretically, they were supposed to decide about the fate of media employees, but in the opinion of those “interrogated” they often had no influence on decisions regarding their fate, because often more important were personal animosities, envy and scores between the “verifiers” and those being “verified” or the materials collected about them by their superiors or the Security Service.

First the Militia and the Army moved in, then decrees were passed. Helpless Council?

Despite the obvious violation of the constitution, after 1989 no one was brought before the State Tribunal.

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The course of these talks was different. For example, radio journalist Janina Jankowska recalled years later: “There was fear, humiliation and division of the community”. On the other hand, there were cases where a “helping hand” was given to those being “verified”, striving for their positive “verification”. This problem was noticed by the security apparatus officers who, e.g. in the case of PR and TVP, accused positively “verified” editorial management members of defending the employees subordinated to them, not only as good specialists necessary for work, but also “in order not to the work teams” . Another issue is that someone had to work in the media, and the depth of the “personnel crisis” in the media was demonstrated by the fact that the list of journalists of the central and local press with negative attitudes, prepared in October 1981 by the Security Service, included, among others: six journalists... of “Trybuna Ludu”.

10% dismissed and 10% dealt with differently

According to official data, over 10,000 conversations were carried out, as a result of which over 10% of the journalistic community was negatively “verified”. In turn, according to the opposition’s data, in addition to those dismissed as a result of “verification”, another 10% were subjected to other repression, e.g. transfer to another position or demotion. 60 editors-in-chief, 78 deputy editors-in-chief and 57 editorial secretaries were dismissed from their positions. As mentioned, staff purges were not the same everywhere, they had greater reach in the press.

As part of the “verification” in the Polish Radio and Polish Television nearly 6,250 people out of a total of 9,200 employees were interviewed, and – according to official data – 513 of them were negatively “verified”, i.e. “only” 5.5% of the total. However, in some cases, significantly more people were subjected to repression. This was the case, for example, in Łódź, where it was decided to impose sanctions against 18 out of 60 journalists of the Polish Radio Broadcasting Station and the Polish Television Centre. Or in the case of the editorial offices of three Tri-City [Gdańsk-Sopot-Gdynia] dailies merged during martial law: “Głos Wybrzeża”, “Dziennik Bałtycki” and “Wieczor Wybrzeża”, where 97 people, i.e. 1/3, were negatively “verified”. The rebellious journalists employed in the SD press were also hit hard. At “Kurier Polski”, out of over 50 members of the editorial team, 14 were dismissed and another 7 were suspended, while at “Tygodnik Demokratyczny” 9 out of 21 employees were removed. On the other hand, all journalists in the Jelenia Góra and Sieradz voivodeships were positively “verified”, and three radio journalists, an announcer and a technical employee were fired from the Olsztyn radio station.

“Verification” process was not always carried out in the same way and “verifiers” were not always needed, as “self-verification” [sic!] was done at the grassroots level. This was the case, for instance, with the weekly “Kultura”, where nine members of the Primary Party Organisation submitted their PZPR membership cards (only the editor-in-chief did not return it). It is therefore not surprising that the magazine was closed down and then re-launched, but as a monthly magazine with a “cleaned” editorial team. In turn, in the case of another popular weekly – “Polityka”, whose editor-in-chief was Deputy Prime Minister Mieczysław F. Rakowski, on December 29, 1981, a stormy meeting with the weekly’s board took place. Part of the team (13 people) decided to leave in protest against the introduction of martial law.
Warsaw 1981. Meeting of members of the Polish Radio and Television Committee (Radiokomitet, KSRiT). In the photo: Mariusz Walter, editor-in-chief of the Editorial Office of Journalistic Shows and Documentary Forms of Studio-2 TVP. Photo: PAP / Maciej Belina Brzozowski
Moreover, sometimes – as in the case of Mariusz Walter, editor-in-chief of the TVP Chief Editorial Office of Journalistic Shows and Documentary Forms and the creator of “Studio 2” – the decision on “verification” was made at a much higher level. His “crucifixion” was demanded by the “renewed” company party organisation in the Radio and Television Committee. What saved him from being fired – he eventually left on his own – was his collaboration with Urban and Rakowski, to whom he allegedly presented “a lot of interesting general political and propaganda concepts” after December 13, 1981. And so valuable that the former proposed him as the head of the black propaganda department (which consciously uses lies) in the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the creation of which was suggested by the government spokesman...

They took their places and made impressive careers…

Kicked out of the media and blackballed, they found themselves in a difficult situation. It is perfectly reflected in an advertisement from “Życie Warszawy” – which, incidentally, was published either by oversight or, more likely, as a result of “sabotage” – reading: “I am looking for an honest job. Jacek Maziarski”. The lucky few included three journalists from “Życie Warszawy” (Jacek Poprzeczko, Wojciech Markiewicz and Leszek Będkowski), who received a job offer at “Polityka”. The first two accepted it. Most of their colleagues had to cope differently. Many of them were forced to take up various activities to earn money. As Jacek Snopkiewicz (a negatively “verified” editorial manager at the TVP Chief Editorial Office of Publicistic Shows and Documentary Forms) described it rather vividly – he met Krystyna Mokrosińska (a journalist and television documentary filmmaker) “in a bitter frost, at a flower stall on the corner of Świerczewski and Marchlewski Streets. Wrapped in anoraks, wearing felt boots, she was shivering with cold, adding asparagus plumous to a bouquet of gerberas…

The fired journalists and other media workers were replaced by others (usually young and inexperienced), and thanks to this, some of them began their – sometimes impressive – careers. For example, Programme III of the Polish Radio, which was “cleaned up” particularly carefully as a hotbed of “Solidarity”, included, among others: Marek Niedźwiecki or Monika Olejnik.

SIGN UP TO OUR PAGE As I have mentioned, a large group of people took part in the “verification” campaign. In addition to media management, these were party members, Security Service officers and soldiers of the Polish People’s Army. They suffered practically no consequences, on the contrary – they made brilliant careers. It happened that in 1989, when people who had been fired seven years earlier returned to work in the media, they were accepted by the same people who had fired them earlier, but now employed in higher positions. All the more so because the new authorities (e.g. the new “Solidarity” president of the Committee for Radio and Television, Andrzej Drawicz) were firmly opposed to a more rigorous treatment of journalists who had collaborated with the communist government. Drawicz called it a “new verification” or “a kind of purge” in relation to people “who simply faithfully served the authorities as they were then exercised”... By the way, he said these words during a meeting with radio and television employees in Katowice, where a bizarre, even shocking situation occurred. The commission in this centre – with the participation of “verifiers” from 1982 onwards – refused to employ a person who had been negatively “verified” at that time, and not at all – according to Jerzy Wuttke, a member of the Civic Parliamentary Club quoted by “Gazeta Wyborcza” – “not due to lack of professionalism”.

They walk, they do well, they compete for honours

It is true that the “verification” of journalists during martial law was the subject of investigations by prosecutors of the Institute of National Remembrance [IPN], but even if the perpetrators were brought to trial (as in Łódź, for example), and the court found them guilty, at the same time – under the amnesty of 1989 – criminal proceedings against these people were discontinued. Moreover, some “verifiers”, such as Ryszard Ulicki (in 2003) or Ryszard Sławiński (a year later), were elected by the Polish Parliament to the National Broadcasting Council to supervise the media. Unfortunately, the words of Iwona Śledzińska-Katarasińska, an MP from the Civic Platform party and the chairwoman of the parliamentary committee on culture and mass media from 2004, are still largely valid: “Even though so many years have passed since martial law, are still around, alive, doing well, they compete for public positions and honours. They are elected to various bodies. However, there is nothing as disgusting as in the journalistic environment”.

Some consolation is the fact that there are exceptions to this rule – now and thenbeing a “verifier” becomes something shameful, a stain on your CV. This is perfectly evidenced by the case of Bohdan Onichimowski, whose cause for shame was not the fact of cooperation (in the years 1979–1989) with the security apparatus, but the publication of his name as a member of the “verification” commission at the Radio and Television Centre in Szczecin. The problem is that the shame was not great enough to prevent him from filing a lawsuit against the historian who had revealed this fact...

– Grzegorz Majchrzak

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and jornalists

– Translated by Dominik Szczęsny-Kostanecki

The author is a member of the IPN Historical Research Office

Main photo: March 1981. Talks between representatives of NSZZ Solidarność and the government about the so-called Bydgoszcz events (on March 19, during a meeting of the Provincial National Council in Bydgoszcz, trade unionists were beaten up by militia officers). In the photo: Deputy Prime Minister Mieczysław Rakowski gives an interview to Telewizja Polska in the lobby of the Palace of the Council of Ministers, on the left is journalist Witold Stefanowicz. Photo: PAP / Jan Morek
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