May 9, 2011
THE POLEMICS and hysteria in Polish politics are bad enough: accusing your opponent of mental illness, treachery and lies is just a throat-clearing formality. But compared with the online debate about the debate, those exchanges look like a colloquium between Socrates and Cicero. When commenting in internet forums, many Poles seem to lose their manners, to put it mildly, freely making the grossest personal insinuations about anyone unwise enough to pop their head above the parapet. That has a corrosive effect on the quality of public life. To be fair, this is not just a Polish problem, but at least in Poland someone is making a stand about it.
That person is none other than the foreign minister, Radek Sikorski (disclosure: an old friend of mine). In an interview last week in Gazeta Wyborcza (link in Polish) he complained about the way in which Polish newspapers allow anti-semitic and other grotesquely insulting comments on their websites, of a kind that they would never publish in print. He argued:
On Friday he appeared in court (link in English from Mr Sikorski's website) to give a deposition, complaining that the administrators of the sites concerned had not taken down the comments, despite being notified of their offensive content. He has also brought civil cases against two of the papers, Fakt (a hard-hitting tabloid) and Puls Biznesu (a business-news media outlet). He says:
It is easy to snigger about thin-skinned politicians who can't take criticism. But in this case my sympathies are with the fox, not the hounds. Anonymous online comments are probably a good thing on balance—but they do require some sort of moderation. That costs time and money, but news media need to take responsibility for that, and not simply try to muster as many clicks as possible by allowing discussion to rage (literally) unchecked. If they don't, then a lawsuit is a good response.