Why a Polish journalist turns to knitting socks

''I am looking for an honest job,'' the 2 1/2 line ad in Zycie Warszawy said. There was a name and a telephone number.

It caused quite a public stir.

Jacek Maziarski, a gifted political commentator for the prestigious Polityka and later for the high-level weekly Kultura, was looking for work.

He is one of some 700 Polish journalists who have not survived the political ''verification'' required of editors and writers under martial law.

Not all have had to quit journalism. Some were moved from political pages to other sections or to technical magazines. Many decided not to write under the new conditions.

What has happened to the Polish press is one of the more disturbing aspects of martial law. It is all too reminiscent of what happened in Czechoslovakia, although the ''normalization'' of the press imposed there after the crushing of the 1968 reforms was much wider and more punitive.

Almost all the news media here came under heavy fire when emergency rule was imposed Dec. 13. All newspapers except the Communist Party's Trybuna Ludu were shut down. Journalists were suspended pending verification.

No fewer than 11 of Polityka's writers resigned, despite appeals from its editor, Mieczyslaw Rakowski. He had become vice-premier in February 1981 and is one of Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski's closest advisers.

The Polish Journalists' Association--which elected a lively, reform-minded leadership after the government's August 1980 accord with Solidarity--was suspended.

In mid-March a campaign for its dissolution began. Journalistic groups around Poland called for a new association supporting martial law and the regime's new policies.

It had all the markings of an orchestrated plan to eliminate any kind of autonomous journalists' body and to reassert party control of the press.

By government decree the old association ceased to exist March 20. Within 24 hours a new one was announced, based on a shadowy ''orthodox'' union that had appeared when the reform movement started.

Apparently most journalists gave this association, headed by a former provincial editor, a chill reception. Some 50 signed an open letter contesting its claim to be representative.

But Stefan Olszowski, the Politburo conservative in charge of press, television, and radio, could claim in a speech March 26 that ''the principle of party management of the mass media has been restored.''

And so it has, for the foreseeable future.

Mr. Maziarski's experience illustrates the moral-professional side of what has happened to the press.

Last summer, he began planning a weekly to be called Samorzadnosc (Self-Government). It was the outcome of increasing criticism that Solidarity's weekly, Tygodnik Solidarnosc, was focusing on union rights and strikes to the exclusion of constructive contributions to the debate on the country's economic problems.

Samorzadnosc was to fill that gap. But only three numbers appeared before martial law killed it.

Mr. Maziarski stopped writing. After his ad appeared, he told the Monitor why.

''Before Dec. 13 there was flexibility,'' he said. ''An editor would not call on you to write an article if he knew you did not feel able to present it the way he had in mind. Journalists were not pressed to write contrary to their own convictions.

''Now it is what the editor wants, there is no room for argument. It is very strict under martial law. I realized I could not contemplate writing against my own thinking, so I decided it better to take an 'honest job.' ''

His ad brought a mass of replies.

''There were obvious jokers suggesting window washing and so on--maybe not so facetious as it might sound! Many simply wanted to commend the stand I had taken.

''Others wanted private language tuition, offered car jobs, farming, gardening, and household help. . . .''

Maziarski's apartment became ''a kind of employment agency.''

Maziarski and his wife opted for a cooperative making sweaters and socks. ''Both are extremely hard to find in the shops,'' he said. ''It seems to us at least we are meeting a social need. It's not a suitable time for writing.''

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