The history of the Polish Press Agency and its predecessor – the Polish Telegraphic Agency – is closely connected with the history of Poland over the past 100 years. Each great event in the history of the nation, both positive and negative, has been reflected in the fate of the agency.
The story began in the autumn of 1918, when a group of Polish journalists took over the branch offices of the Vienna Correspondence Bureau in Kraków and Lwów. Based on those modest human and material resources, the first Polish news agency was given an institutional format on 5 December 1918. PAT became the official press and information agency of the Republic of Poland, supervised by the Polish Cabinet’s Presidium, or the council of senior ministers. As written during the Cabinet’s sitting of December 3:
“Placing PAT under the direct supervision and authority of the Prime Minister, as accepted in all Central and Western European countries, is a necessary condition for keeping the direction of the internal policy in the hands of the Prime Minister.”
This provision meant that for another year, until the autumn of 1919, PAT’s competence was in line with the activity of the Press Department of the Cabinet’s Presidium and the Press Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Despite this, PAT grew. Apart from the head office in Warsaw, branch offices were opened in Lublin and Łódź. The following year, the agency established cooperation with the Vienna Correspondence Bureau and the Havas Agency in Paris. PAT opened subsequent branch offices in Poznań, Bydgoszcz, Toruń, Gdańsk and Vilnius.
The agency’s development was soon interrupted. In 1920 – facing a direct threat from the Soviet forces approaching Warsaw – Poland’s military authorities took over the telephone and telegraph lines for the needs of the army and military censorship was introduced. There is currently no precise information about the developments, but most probably it was the Press Section of the 2nd Information Department of the High Command and the General Staff – which had for a while already existed independently – that was then responsible for the circulation of information. The section’s tasks included, “apart from providing information, also collecting data related to all military, political, army-economic and army-cultural matters for use by the High Command and the General Staff of the Polish Army […] inspiring the press to follow the direction that would be desired by the military, and publishing relevant articles.”
The following year, PAT was no longer a government agency as it gained autonomy. It also signed detailed cooperation contracts with the Havas Agency in Paris and the Reuters Agency in London. PAT opened its first permanent correspondence missions in Berlin, Vienna, Paris, Rome, Królewiec (Königsberg, today’s Kaliningrad) and Moscow.
In 1922, PAT started to offer its newswire service through radiotelegraphy. However, it was not cheap. Only the wealthiest publishers and editorial offices could afford a permanent connection to PAT’s head office. Editorial offices had to find the required money as early as the following year.
In 1922 and 1923, PAT established cooperation with the most renowned news agencies in the world, which made it the most prominent and fastest news service in Poland at that time. For example, it previously took between eight and 20 hours for news releases to get from Paris to Warsaw, whereas by the end of 1922 the time was cut to a maximum of four hours. PAT’s status was formally confirmed by its membership in the League of Agencies, established on 12 December 1923, which press experts regard as the end of the first stage of its development.
PAT’s increased international status directly translated into its position in Poland. Through a Polish presidential regulation of 26 June 1924, the Polish Telegraphic Agency gained new statutes and was transformed into a state-owned company. It became the exclusive intermediary for the government’s paid advertisements in the press. In the following year, PAT expanded into all forms of government advertising, including “light, film and photographic” advertising, as well as film and photographic images of state-owned buildings and areas. Historians stress that all of this was necessary as PAT remained a relatively poor institution which, despite its increased importance, would not be able to sustain such a rate of growth without state support.
The PAT Film Weekly, which a year later became the PAT’s Newsreel, included a review of the most important events from Poland and the world. Apart from the important news of the day, the Newsreel’s authors also picked up lighter subjects, including those related to folk festivals, social life or fashion, which makes it one of the crucial resources for the full understanding of interwar Poland. The claim that its authors managed to strike a perfect balance between serious and popular content is best confirmed by the fact that their formula – with a relevant propaganda leaning – was later adopted in communist Poland in the “Polish Film Chronicle” format.
In 1932, PAT acquired the Wydawnictwa Państwowe (State Publishing House) company, and the Agency took over the publication of Monitor Polski, an official government gazette containing legal acts, the Collection of the Rulings of the Highest Administrative Court, and Gazeta Lwowska (The Lvov Gazette). Polpat, the radio and telegraphic service, designed for foreign agencies, was also launched as PAT moved its headquarters to a building at 5 Królewska St. in Warsaw.
In 1934, by presidential decree, PAT acquired Drukarnie Państwowe (The State Printing House). The following year, PAT took over the Film Institute, whose main task was to provide secondary schools with equipment to screen 16mm films.
The outbreak of the Second World War interrupted the agency’s development. In 1939, following in the footsteps of the evacuated Polish government, the Polish Telegraphic Agency left the country and resumed operations first in Paris and then in London – working for the Polish Government in Exile.
However, the war did not stop its activities. Its underground operations in occupied Poland were an important stage in PAT’s existence.
As part of the Government in Exile’s Information and Press Department, a special unit of the agency operated under the code name Iskra (and from 3 June 1943: Antena or 600/PP). Independent of other underground organisations, it dealt with the collection of information on life in occupied Poland. During the Warsaw Uprising, PAT issued daily (often twice-daily) communiques on the situation in the city and events on the war fronts. Of course, this was not journalism in its strictest sense. At this time, the agency also had its own photographers. Waldemar Grabowski, a historian with the Polish Institute for National Remembrance (IPN), noted:
“The information and propaganda services of the Polish Underground State carried out a range of activities. Apart from gathering information for the underground leadership in Poland and providing information for the people (in bulletins, leaflets, etc.). They also prepared comprehensive reports for the Polish government-in-exile in London that included data on the occupiers’ repression against Polish people as well as information on the German economy, national relations and conditions of everyday life. They also described the social mood and attitude of the people to the Polish government.”
During the Warsaw Uprising, PAT changed its location several times in and around central Warsaw. The unit’s manager was Stanisław Ziemba, a pre-war journalist, a soldier of Poland’s underground Home Army (AK) and later the editor of the Dziennik Zachodni daily. He recalled later:
“I must underline that, as far as I know, the nature of the agency reporter’s work at that time in Warsaw was a special thing in journalism. This not only applies to what is understood as standard news reporting, but also to what we did and experienced in our underground journalistic work during the years of occupation, other than just during the Uprising. It was also to a large extent something different from the work of a war correspondent, who reaches frontline positions, but always in agreement with some command or other, that was not applicable to us at all.”
When the Uprising was crushed, the agency’s employees left the city and resumed their work in Krakow and other locations. “The Uprising was over. After the capitulation, tens of thousands of Warsaw residents left the city every day. On 5 October 1944 our group of PAT reporters met for the last time before leaving the city. We had for the whole duration of the Uprising reported on life in the fighting Polish capital in the “Biuletyn Krajowy” (National Bulletin) .
The post-AK information services operated in Poland until 1947, but could no longer achieve very much. PAT was revived outside Poland’s borders, initially in the seat of the Polish government-in-exile in London, and later on as an independent institution.
In spite of the very difficult financial situation, it published bulletins for the Polish diaspora about the activity of the Polish government-in-exile and the situation in Poland. It published its last news release on 8 January 1991.
The war was still raging when the communist authorities established the Polish Press Agency “Polpress”, which from August 1944 operated in Lublin and from the following year in Łódź and Warsaw. The name “Polpress” did not last long. As recounted by editor Marian Podkowiński – the Polish correspondent reporting on the trials of German Nazi war criminals in Nuremberg – it was then that he dropped the “Polpress” name and left only three letters – PAP. And this stayed.
On 26 October 1945, the chairman of the Polish National Council founded the Polish Press Agency as a state-owned company.
A year later, PAP moved to a hastily-adapted tenement building at 9 Foksal St and stayed for ten years. In 1951, the Central Photographic Agency (CAF) was established in Warsaw as part of the publishing distributor RSW Prasa-Książka-Ruch, with its seat at 16 Foksal St.
In 1957, the Polish Press Agency moved to the prestigious building at 7 Jerozolimskie Ave. The building was its seat for the next 40 years and from there subscribers received dispatches from Ryszard Kapuściński, among other reporters. Other prominent PAP journalists of that time included Leopold Unger, Marek Ostrowski, the previously mentioned Marian Podkowiński and Ludwik Jerzy Kern.
In 1983, through a law adopted by parliament on 28 July, PAP became a government agency, operating as a state-owned company.
In the late 1980s, PAP also entered a period of huge change, both in terms of the technology used in agency work and the reporting team, which was as a result of the long-awaited political changes which took place after the Round Table talks between the communist government and the opposition. On 4 June 1989, the partly-free parliamentary election was held, Tadeusz Mazowiecki was appointed prime minister and formed a government. Life became more democratic and the country switched to a market economy.
All of this enabled a symbolic unification of the Polish Telegraphic Agency with the Polish Press Agency. On 27 February 1991, at an extraordinary meeting of PAP’s editorial board, a decision was made to merge the two agencies. PAT’s last editor, Ferdynand Pasiecznik, handed over a copy of PAT news services to the then PAP President Ignacy Rutkiewicz. Since then, PAP has been operating as the second incarnation of PAT.
In 1993, PAP launched a satellite transmission service through the agency’s own satellite station. A year later, electronic transmission of PAP’s text products and databases was introduced. At the same time, digital technology for generating and providing photographic services was introduced. The first professional editorial system was implemented in 1996. The latest system enables the transmission of news items that include not only text or images, but entire information packages – text, audio, video, graphics, etc. – meeting all the requirements of both traditional customers (the press, radio and TV) and that of the rapidly-growing electronic media, operating on online platforms.
On 31 July 1997, the Sejm, Poland’s lower house of parliament, adopted legislation related to PAP, transforming the agency into a joint-stock company in which the State Treasury held a 100 percent stake. Under law, 49 percent of the shares may be offered to other entities and persons. In 1998, the District Court for the Capital City of Warsaw officially registered the company Polska Agencja Prasowa SA.
The following year, PAP started to offer its services to online providers and launched distribution of the PAP Online Daily via e-mail. In 2001, the Polish Press Agency – with its now-incorporated Central Photographic Agency – became a member of the European Pressphoto Agency (EPA).
In 2004, PAP moved to its own building at 6/8 Bracka St in Warsaw.
An unveiling ceremony took place on 12 October 2009 of a plaque, on the façade of the PAP building, commemorating Ryszard Kapuściński.
The agency has been expanding its operations through its specialist information services. The PAP Business economic service was first released in 2001. It provides business information from Poland and the world as well as stock exchange quotations, currency rates and listed companies’ reports in the ESPI and EBI systems.
PAP’s Local Government Service and Science in Poland, were launched three years later. The former is a compendium of knowledge for and about local government and covers such vital areas as the law, finance, politics, education and the environment.
The latter service, Science in Poland, is the most comprehensive collection of news on Polish science, including the latest research and achievements of Polish scientists. It lists Polish higher education institutions and provides biographies of contemporary Polish scientists and outstanding researchers of the past. The online portal aims to promote Polish science through such initiatives as the Populariser of Science competition, designed for individuals, the media and institutions.
Both services are produced at 6/8 Bracka St. in Warsaw, an address that has been PAP’s headquarters since 2004.
The Dzieje.pl online history portal, launched in 2008, has proved very popular. It focuses on the history of Poland in the 20th century and offers in-depth articles and interviews with historians and witnesses to history as well as the latest cultural and educational information. The portal also provides reports on key historical and cultural events, along with infographics and documentation. The detailed and regularly-updated calendar of events in Polish history, constitutes an important element of the Dzieje.pl service. The website’s primary goal is to educate and popularise historical knowledge.
PAP has always attracted the best reporters, journalists and photographers, many of whom have won prestigious awards. Reporters who recently won awards include Piotr Śmiłowicz, Stanisław Karnacewicz, Rafał Pogrzebny and Łukasz Starzewski.
PAP photographers have also collected a number of awards over the past decade.
Jacek Turczyk has won several distinctions and awards in the BZWBK Press Photo competition (including for the series “My Most Important Poles”). He has also won the Grand Press Photo contest and the Polish Sports Photography Competition.
Kuba Kamiński has won the following distinctions and awards: National Photo Press Association (USA), China International Press Photography Contest (China) as well as Grand Press Photo and BZWBK Press Photo (Poland). Initially, he was among the finalists, and has since won the Ryszard Kapuściński Award. Kamiński has also earned a distinction in Wielki Konkurs National Geographic (National Geographic’s Grand Competition).
Jakub Kaczmarczyk won the 2017 Wielkopolska Press Photo competition. Andrzej Grygiel has won the Grand Press Photo and World Press Photo awards. Other PAP laureates include Wojciech Pacewicz and Radosław Pietruszka.
These PAP success stories prove that the agency has maintained the highest professional standards in the area of reporting the latest news in the most attractive journalistic format.