The controversial takeover by Poland’s state-controlled oil refiner PKN Orlen of local media publisher Polska Press has been held up in court after an intervention by Ombudsman Adam Bodnar, the ombudsman’s office said on April 12.
The decision comes in the wake of the ombudsman’s appealing in February against the decision by the anti-monopoly and consumer protection office UOKiK to clear the deal.
Until the appeal has been reviewed, the ombudsman asked the Warsaw District Court to stop the deal. The court “upheld” the motion, the ombudsman said in a statement.
Orlen’s takeover of Polska Press provoked questions about whether the United Right government was thus laying ground to secure positive coverage in numerous local media in the run-up to general and local elections, both due in 2023.
Bodnar shared those concerns in his February appeal.
“By agreeing to the purchase of Polska Press by PKN Orlen, UOKiK did not examine whether the result would be an unacceptable restriction of press freedom,” the ombudsman said in March.
“The concentration planned will not affect the competition on the local press publishing market, on which Polska Press is present, but PKN Orlen has not been present yet. The only thing, which will change is the owner of Polska Press, whereas the market share of its individual members will remain unchanged,” UOKiK said at the time.
The transaction would give Orlen new ways of winning new customers, based on the utilisation of big data, the refiner said.
But apart from offering Orlen data on potential customers’ behaviour that could translate into better sales of the company’s products and services, the same data could be used for targeting users of local media with political messaging, critics of the transaction said.
Barbara Kania, a journalist with ardent pro-government views, became a member of Polska Press' management board earlier this month.
Since winning power for the first time in 2015, the nationalist coalition government, led by Law and Justice (PiS), has transformed public media – broadcaster TVP in particular – into propaganda tools.
PiS has also long talked about foreign media groups having too much influence in Poland and hinted at changing laws to reduce foreign media ownership. The German owners of Polska Press would regularly come up in PiS’s discussions of the matter.
Apart from owning 20 regional newspapers, Polska Press also owns 120 weeklies across Poland and 500 websites.