Otwórz w przeglądarce  
  Democracy at stake  
  By Miłosz Wiatrowski-Bujacz, 
Senior Editor, Gazeta Wyborcza Foundation

Pro-government media in Poland are facing severe backlash after the suicide of an opposition MP's teenage son. Because of their careless coverage, the 15-year-old boy was publicly identified as the victim of sexual abuse.

Over the weekend, social media feeds in Poland were flooded with messages of shock and anger in reaction to the suicide of a 15-year-old boy from Szczecin. While it remains unclear what exactly led Mikołaj Filiks to take his own life, there are reasons to believe that the child’s decision was in part influenced by a smear campaign meant to politically discredit his mother, a well-known opposition MP Magdalena Filiks.

The Civic Platform MP is no stranger to political attacks from members of the ruling camp. Her political record speaks for itself. Suffice to mention her involvement in the government-critical civic organization Committee for the Defense of Democracy (KOD), open declaration of solidarity with judge Igor Tuleya, defending Women's Strike protesters against police brutality, and putting up a banner with a government-critical slogan on the façade of the local Law and Justice party headquarters in Szczecin. Yet, the most recent hate campaign against Magdalena Filiks is unprecedented in scale.

At the end of December 2022, Tomasz Duklanowski, editor-in-chief of the state-controlled Public Radio Szczecin, published an article describing the case of Krzysztof F., a former employee at the regional marshal’s office who, back in 2021, was sentenced to 4 years and 10 months in prison after being found guilty of child abuse. Duklanowski framed the story as a conspiracy of the liberal opposition intended to cover up a "pedophile scandal inside the marshal's office".

Setting off a smear campaign picked up and amplified by ruling party acolytes and state-controlled media, Duklanowski’s sensationalist publication allowed to effectively disclose the confidential identity of Krzysztof F. 's underage victim – Mikołaj Filiks.

Some of the outlets went as far as to suggest the victim’s identity in the headlines.

Figures associated with the ruling Law and Justice party, including local MPs, members of the Szczecin city council, right-wing celebrities and pundits, actively participated in the hate campaign. At least two of them put photos of Magdalena Filiks next to their social media posts. This, in turn, triggered a deluge of online attacks against the Civic Platform MP. Haters accused her of participating in a pedophile conspiracy in the name of party loyalty. As a matter of fact, she notified the police as soon as she found out that her child had been sexually abused.

Even the National Broadcasting Council, dominated by ruling camp loyalists, found that Radio Szczecin behaved unethically. The council’s Chairman, Maciej Świrski, initiated proceedings meant "to punish the broadcasters of Polskie Radio Szczecin and TVP Info for broadcasting content enabling the identification of child victims, which grossly endangered their welfare".

Facing heavy backlash from public opinion, some of the pundits and politicians who participated in the hate campaign have since deleted their social media posts. Tomasz Duklanowski, meanwhile, is portraying himself as a victim of the liberal opposition’s efforts to "vilify him". He has been on leave since last week and is not expected to be back at work at least until Tuesday, the date of Mikołaj’s funeral. It remains unclear whether his absence has anything to do with the teenager’s tragic death.

The Public Prosecutor's Office in Szczecin launched a routine investigation into the possible causes of the boy’s suicide. It will also examine the messages Mikołaj received on his phone and computer after the story of his sexual abuse became public.

An open letter prepared by a group of journalists appalled by the smear campaign launched against Magdalena Filiks and her late son, close to 1000 media representatives urged their fellow colleagues not to accept invitations from state-controlled media until the circumstances are clarified.

Reacting to the announcement of the boy’s death, Donald Tusk, leader of Poland’s largest opposition party, tweeted on Saturday: "We will hold the Law and Justice party accountable for every wrongdoing, for all the human wrongs and tragedies they have caused while being in power. This is a promise".

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During a recent visit to a coalmine in Bełchatów, Polish Minister of Justice Zbigniew Ziobro (photographed in the company of his security detail) was seen with a gun hidden in the back of his trousers. Ziobro is known for his obsession with personal security - media outlets routinely inform about the length the Minister goes to protect his privacy, including attempts to remove his residence from Google Maps and Google Earth.

After the news about his decision to carry a firearm despite having a security detail with him at all times were ridiculed by the media, Ziobro defended himself by saying that he has a permit and recommends legally obtaining a gun to everyone. He made no comment on  why the Minister of Justice himself opts for self-reliance over systemic solutions with respect to the enforcement of justice.

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