Ombudsman challenges PKN Orlen press takeover
Poland’s national ombudsman has asked a court to halt the controversial takeover a regional publishing house by PKN Orlen, a state-owned petroleum giant.
In early February Poland's Office of Competition and Consumer Protection (UOKiK) officially permitted Orlen to take control of Polska Press, which owns a large number of regional press titles.
Orlen’s acquisition of the company has sparked concern in Poland that the government is using state-owned assets to buy media companies it regards as being unduly critical of its record.
In an appeal to a Warsaw consumer court, Adam Bodnar, the ombudsman, asked for a waiver of UOKiK's permit, arguing that as Orlen was a state company it could use its ownership of Polska Press to put it under political pressure.
He also pointed out that prior to granting Orlen permission for the takeover, the office had failed to ascertain whether the purchase posed a risk to press freedom.
"A company controlled by the State Treasury - and through it by politicians - could easily gain influence over editorial boards, and thus transform a free press, which is tasked with producing honest and fact-based criticism of the public administration and the people who man it, into pro-government information and propaganda bulletins," Bodnar wrote.
Earlier in March, Polska Press announced that an agreement finalising the purchase by Orlen had been signed on the first of the month.
"We have been surprised with the ombudsman's appeal against a decision approving the takeover of Polska Press by PKN Orlen," the UOKiK press office wrote in a statement on Saturday.
"The decision was issued in a proper way," UKOiK president Tomasz Chrostny was quoted as saying.
Chrostny added that the decision had been preceded by a thorough analysis of all results the takeover might have for the competition on the market.
"The decision approving the takeover has been based solely on business-like premises. That is why the recent steps taken by the ombudsman, which question the decision of an independent institution, are incomprehensible for me. I do not agree with the position of the ombudsman and I see no grounds for this activity," Chrostny added.
The UKOiK press office stated that this was not the first time the ombudsman was taking a UKOiK decision to court, but underlined that never before had a court changed a decision issued by the UKOiK president.