Orlen takeover of press group not in Poland's interests, says opp'n MP

Rafał Guz/PAP

An opposition MP has lashed out at the planned takeover by state-owned energy giant PKN Orlen of a media group controlling dozens of local newspaper and websites, saying it “has nothing in common with the interests of Poland”.

Orlen’s agreement to buy the German-owned Polska Press has sparked speculation that the government is trying to gain control and influence over independent media.

Ministers, which has already come under attack for allegedly turning public media into its propaganda arm, have spoken frequently of bringing foreign-owned media companies under Polish control in a process sometimes called “re-Polanisation”.

"It (the takeover - PAP) is a political decision and sooner or later will be seen as such,” said Marcin Kierwinski, secretary general of Poland's main opposition party, Civic Platform, during an interview on public radio. “I believe it is an extremely uneconomical decision from the point of view of the activities of a public company, which turns over vast amounts of money, but which is the property of the whole of society.

"I would like the media in Poland to be objective and honest," he added. "If that transaction is to make the media a (ruling Law and Justice party - PAP) PiS propaganda tube, it has nothing in common with the interests of Poland."

But Piotr Mueller, the government’s spokesman, defended the move, saying it is a business decision that will not interfere with press freedoms.

"The decision is a decision made by a specific corporation, a state company, but a business decision,” he told the WP portal. “Such transactions have happened in the world before. For example, Amazon bought The Washington Post."

He said the purchase dovetailed with Orlen's business model as it is a multi-sector company and had taken over the Ruch kiosk chain.

"It's a corporation that acts in many fields that complement each other and it is undoubtedly a good decision for the Orlen Group, it will be able to act in many sectors when it comes to sales, this is how it should be considered," Mueller said.

He added rather than claiming the takeover will result in political interference people should wait and see what happens.

"Then everybody will be able to make an assessment, seeing what happens and not forecasting some dark scenario, such as the opposition is trying to do," he said.

PiS's deputy spokesperson Radoslaw Fogiel told a private radio broadcaster on Tuesday that the takeover bid was a decision of Orlen's management, and that Jacek Sasin, the minister for state assets and a deputy prime minister, had been kept informed about what is happening in Treasury-owned companies.

He added that the State Treasury would not approve a takeover that was not in Orlen's commercial interests.

By purchasing Polska Press Orlen will get access to the 17.4 million users of the publisher's portal as well as readers of the Dziennik Balticki, Polska The Times and Dziennik Polski newspapers, and 20 regional and 120 local weeklies.

According to Orlen, Polska Press is one of the biggest publishers in Poland, achieving an income of over PLN 398.4 million (EUR 88.91 million) in 2019.