Last Thursday, a local newspaper in Gdansk splashed a front-page report on the first-ever conference of Poland's new independent trade unions. The meeting, attended by delegates from all over the country, had been held there the previous evening and the account carried by The Voice of the Coast was gripping and accurate.
It was an example of a new style of journalism that has been helping to transform the usually turgid Polish press over the last month. But equally revealing was the fact that no other Polish newspaper carried a report on the meeting. Despite its obvious importance, all mention of it elsewhere was banned by the censor.
The incident provides an insight into the confusing position in which Polish journalists now find themselves.
Since the end of August, when the government agreed to workers' demands for a relaxation of censorship, the press has become more interesting and lively. Much that previously was unpublishable now gets into print every day, including the formerly unmentionable word "strike." In the view of many journalists, however, the changes have been patchy and not nearly as far-reaching as they would like.
"At present the press is like a cake that has not been fully baked," remarked Jerzy Salecki, a journalist for the government information agency Interpress. "Parts of it are nice and fluffy but then you come across an indigestible bit in the middle."
An illustration of the mixed fare being served up in Polish newspapers was provided by coverage of parliament earlier this month. The session was unique in Poland's postwar history for the openness of delegates' speeches and the sharpness of their criticisms of government policies. Next day the arguments were reported in the press, but many were toned down.
Some newspapers now are printing articles previously banned by the censor. One such piece described the favorable conditions for intellectuals in Hungary. It had been held up for seven months on the ground that, while it never directly referred to Poland, it was considered implicitly critical of Polish government policies.
One of the most sensitive areas now is what the censors refer to as "the August events." Polityka, which has always enjoyed a priviledged position in the Polish media, was able to print a colorful and objective account of the end of the strike in Gdansk. But coverage in other papers has been limited, apparently to avoid arousing the population.
By normal East European standards, even the brief reports on the strikers and their demands that have appeared in the Polish press are subversive. Copies of official Polish newspapers containing details of the Gdansk agreement have been confiscated by Czechoslovak and East German customs officials.
Demands by journalists for greater freedoms are a reflection of the deeper stirrings in Polish society. But they also have a particular importance of their own: In Poland, as in other Soviet Bloc countries, control over the mass media has always been regarded as one of the main foundations of the Communist Party's authority.
The abolition of censorship in Czechoslovakia helped precipitate the Soviet invasion of August 1968. After the invasion, the Soviet leadership complained that the Czechoslovak reformers had ignored their repeated calls for controls over the press. Censorship was quickly reimposed.
Here the government has not agreed to abolish censorship but merely to restrict it to "the protection of state and economic secrets and matters relating to the security of the state and its important international interests." Much of the argument now revolves around how these terms should be interpreted.
Jerzy Wiatr, a prominent political scientist contrasted the escalation of outspoken articles in the Czechoslovak press in 1968 with the gradual changes taking place in Poland.
"In Czechoslovakia, most of the people controlling the media were unwilling to compromise" with the Soviet demands, he said. "Here, most editors strongly support the reforms but they don't want to push everything to an extreme."
Many journalists here object to the fact that a large part of the job of informing the Polish public is performed not by the Polish press but by foreign radio stations such as Radio Free Europe and the Voice of America.
Salecki, of Interpress, commented: "Frequently people here get information from foreign sources 24 hours before they hear it from Polish sources. It is very upsetting for us journalists not to be trusted by our own authorities."
There are some signs of change, however. The promises to restrict censorship have been combined with a purge of Communist Party officials in charge of the mass media. The most publicized dismissal was that of Maciej Szczepanski, the head of radio and television, who amassed a personal fortune through corruption and exercised a deadening influence over Polish broadcasting for nearly a decade.
By comparison with Szczepanski, the new media chiefs are colorless figures who have come up through the bureaucratic apparatus and can be relied on to implement the new party line, whatever it may be. Although reform of the news media began as a peripheral issue during Poland's summer of labor unrest, it has now became central to the government's attempts to regain the trust of the population. After years of party-controlled propaganda, most Poles simply no longer believe what they read in the press or hear on the radio.
An example of this occurred at the end of the strike in Gdansk when an agreement was signed between government and workers. The event was televised nationwide, but strikers in the town of Elblag believed that the pictures had somehow been faked -- and they initially refused to go back to work.
It is difficult to bridge a credibility gap like that. But most Polish journalists believe it can be done -- as long as they are left by themselves free of government interference.
As one journalist remarked: "It's going to be hard work, but I think it will take less time to restore the people's confidence in the press than in politicians.