WAS IT A CLOSET capitalist in communist Poland who came up with the notion of requiring foreign journalists to pay a $350 tax, on top of heavy fees for accommodations and services, to cover the visit of Pope Paul II to his native country in June? Did a clever enemy of the people dream up this idea in order, as they say, to discredit the Polish government? Or was it simply an ordinary Polish bureaucrat caught between domestic pressures to restrict, and international pressures to broaden, coverage of an event bound to worry the Warsaw regime?
Whatever the answer, the idea of such a tax of journatlists obviously opens up a whole new avenue of economic and political possibilities. If a pope's visit of Poland is pegged at $350, what might be the value of. say, a president's trip to Philadelphia? $43.50, with a second trip thrown in at only $19.75? Coverage of the AFL-CIO's annual winter meeting under a warming sun would no doubt fetch a good sum, although you would probably expect to get a discount for covering the ritual speeches we can all recite by now. Events taking place in danger zones, on the other hand, such as Three Mile Island and environs, would really have to be cut-rate. It would be a First Amendment violation, of course, for the American government to get into the business of administering the prices at which news coverage of public events was hawked. Still, there would have to be some kind of private board watching to ensure that journalists received fair value. Maybe the Columbia School of Journalism and the New York Stock Exchange could work out something.
But enough. The new tax is a holdup. In the Helsinki Accords, Poland accepted precise international obligations designed to make it easier for the publics of East and West alike to receive information. A Polish precedent could tempt the Soviet Union to try taxing the 25,000 journalists expected for the Moscow Olympics in 1980. The Poles should back off.