Poland’s state-run refiner becomes a media baron

Poland’s nationalist government moved to take control of most of the country’s regional newspapers on Monday when state-controlled refiner PKN-Orlen announced it was buying the Polish Press Group from Germany’s Verlagsgruppe Passau.

“We will take over [Polish Press Group],” Orlen CEO Daniel Obajtek announced on Twitter. He said the transaction will give Orlen access to almost 17.5 million readers. The publisher owns 20 regional newspapers, almost 120 local weeklies and more than 500 online websites. The cost of the transaction was not released.

Poland’s Law and Justice (PiS) party-led government has come under fire from European institutions for its control of state radio and television — which lavishly praise the government while lambasting the opposition. The move is likely to worsen tensions with Brussels — adding to strained relations thanks to Poland and Hungary’s decision to block the next EU budget and pandemic recovery program over fears that the flow of money will be linked to following the EU’s rule of law principles.

While Obajtek said that buying the papers would “effectively support the sales and develop the tools of advanced data management,” it’s raising concerns that Poland is moving in the same direction as Hungary — where almost all the media is firmly in the grip of allies of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

The Polish opposition denounced the transaction as undermining Poland’s free press.

“Taking over Polska Press by Orlen has nothing to do with the development of the refining company,” tweeted Borys Budka, leader of the opposition Civic Platform party. “They are using the money of Poles to build another propaganda machine.”

Orlen rejected that accusation, calling the acquisition “a strictly business investment.” The refiner already owns one of the country’s largest retail media distributors and buying Polska Press “is our next step towards creating a comprehensive offer for our clients,” the company said.

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