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Polish Journalists Find Challenges In Publishing Independent Papers

EAST EUROPEAN PRESS: TRANSITION TO FREEDOM

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A FREE press is one of the cardinal pillars of a free society, but as democratic reforms sweep Eastern Europe, editors and journalists are discovering that it's not so easy to create a truly independent news voice. Even in Poland, where for more than a decade a vast underground press flourished alongside the official, Communist-controlled news media and where Parliament is on its way to abolishing censorship, the transition is marked by pitfalls.

``I have absolutely no professional training as a journalist; I don't know how to do reporting,'' says Kostek Gebert, who was something of a media star in the underground press with fiery pro-Solidarity, anti-Communist articles written under the pen name David Warezawski. Today, still using that name, he writes openly in various publications and even had a piece in the liberal Communist weekly Polityka.

``If I'm present at political negotiations, I can do reporting because that's essentially a columnist's job, right?'' he says in an interview. ``But I tried several times to write a factual report on things I saw, keeping my comments to myself. That was sheer torture....''

``The kind of columns I did were militant columns, for a cause,'' he says. ``What you didn't try to do was paint a balanced picture, but essentially hit at the enemy's weak spots, keep up morale.... So what do you do now if you try to do your job decently? ... In the underground, more or less, you're part of a bigger whole, part of a cause.''

Mr. Gebert's dilemma is experienced not only by journalists coming out of the underground press. Under the Communists, all legal publications were censored and most editors and journalists had to belong to the party.

``It's almost impossible, like being reborn, to learn to write in a Western style, not just because of the censorship, but because of the philosophy of [Communist] journalism,'' says Andrzej Jonas, a former Communist Party member who has worked for more than 20 years in the official media, since the mid-1980s at the government information agency, Interpress.

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