International Press Clubs Converge in Warsaw

Warsaw was the site of the annual meeting of the International Association of Press Clubs (IAPC) under the direction of Jaroslaw Wlodarczyk of the Press Club Polska. Jarek is an energetic man who ran the meetings, planned the programs and even acted as tour guide on excursions in Warsaw and Gdansk.

Belarus, Berlin, Brussels, Jerusalem, New Delhi, Mongolia, New York, Paris, Prague, Vienna, and War¬saw were the clubs in attendance. Decisions were made to admit the Mongolian Press Club, Press Club Brussels Europe, the International Press Club of Prague and the twelve press clubs in the Asia-Pacific Association of Press Clubs and also to recognize the new Jerusalem Press Club as a Provisional for the year since it had not been officially launched yet and was only beginning its membership drive. Belarus journalists who have been under the wing of the Press Club in Warsaw applied for full status, but since a press-club-in-exile is not some¬thing the IAPC had ever dealt with before, it was decided to give Belarus Observer status.

The IAPC, founded in 2002, has not had a clear focus nor a robust website, so much of the meeting time was devoted to discussing how to advance the future of the organization and how to incorporate more member clubs.

The OPC, in conjunction with the Press Club Polska, organized a panel discussion on the Freedom of Media and Security of Journalists. The panel included OPC member Andrew Nagorski who had served as bureau chief for Newsweek in Warsaw, Moscow, Rome, Bonn, and Berlin. Nagorski is currently Director of Public Pol¬icy at the EastWest Institute. The other panelists were Kasia Madera, a BBC World News presenter and journalist, Jas Gawronski, an Italian journalist of the family that founded the prominent Italian newspaper La Stampa, Lucie Morillon, head of Reporters Without Borders Advocacy and Research Desk, was the expert on journalist security. The discussion was moderated by Jaroslaw Gugala, journalist and presenter of Polsat TV evening news. The event held at the Polish Press Agency was attended by 60 people was made possible by a grant from the Ford Foundation. FedEx paid for the shipment of Dateline magazines, which were distributed at the panel discussion.

During the panel, Nagorski contrasted the historical differences that journalists faced from the Cold War to the present. “It’s worth noting that, despite all the dangers today to freedom of the media and the huge problems we have with security for journalists, there are some positive trends,” he said. “There’s no better example than the country we’re now in. I covered Poland in the 1980s, when I had to play cat-and-mouse games with the security services to interview someone like Zbigniew Bujak, the underground leader of Solidarity who was the country’s most wanted political fugitive. I was led by Solidarity contacts through back alleys, jumped in and out of cars, and went through all sorts of other drills to avoid being followed. Today, that’s hard to imagine. Political life is free and the media is free. And the country has taken off economically, banishing the chronic shortages and deprivation of the bygone era. As elsewhere, the media is facing plenty of competitive pressures, but no more so than every¬where else.”

The highlight of the IAPC gathering was a black-tie dinner in the Royal Palace. The first Free Speech Award was granted to Reporters Without Borders and was presented by Lech Walesa, Solidarity leader, Nobel Prize winner and former Polish President. Members of the IAPC had voted on the awardee. Gerald Sapey, President and Christophe Deloire, General Secretary of RSF, accepted the award.

The OPC had another presence at the dinner: member Rita Cosby, a three time Emmy Award winner and special cor¬respondent for CBS’s “Inside Edition.”

Cosby is well-known in Poland because of the book she wrote in 2010, Quiet Hero: Secrets From My Father’s Past about her Father who was a Polish Resistance fighter in the Warsaw Uprising during World War II. Cosby gave a moving speech about discovering her Father’s past as a young man in Poland before he emigrated to the U.S.

Guests also had a sneak preview of Andrzej Wajda’s film “Walesa.” Wajda, who spoke just before the film, is an Academy Award lifetime achievement winner. The film clips were about the making of the film, but Walesa did not attend because he wants to reserve judgment until the film is ready for distribution. Nagorski said, “I was struck by how Robert Wieckiewicz, probably Poland’s best character actor...captures Walesa’s mannerisms, intonation and quirks. I covered Walesa for a long time, and, based on what I’ve seen so far, I think he’s absolutely nailed him.” The film is scheduled for release in October.

After such a tumultuous history with 85 percent of Warsaw totally destroyed during World War II, there is a vitality, resilience and determination in the Polish nation that is remarkable. I visited Gdansk with the IAPC group, which has a jewel of a town center recreated to look as it did when it was part of the Hanseatic League in the 13th century. Krakow is also a lovely old city that was not destroyed during the war and is famous as the home of Pope John Paul II and the site of Oskar Schindler’s factory which was featured in Steven Spielberg’s film “Schindler’s List.”

Spending time in-person with people who I usually correspond with via e-mail or phone was a good opportunity for the OPC to exchange information and extend our network of friends.