POLAND: Concern on press freedom after state-run oil company buys leading media group

Article originally published in Politico Europe on 15 December 2020.

Reporters and editors at dozens of Poland’s regional newspapers are worried that they’ll be fired or placed under political pressure after state-controlled refiner PKN Orlen earlier announced the acquisition of Polska Press Group — a major publisher of local media.

Orlen insists that the purchase — for an undisclosed sum — of Polska Press from Germany’s Verlagsgruppe Passau is a purely business decision driven by the publisher’s control of 20 of Poland’s largest regional daily newspapers, as well as some 120 regional and local weeklies and 500 websites, ranging from popular sources of local news like the naszemiasto.pl portal to specialist ones covering farming or cars.

Despite those assurances, it’s clear that PiS has been hungering to extend its reach over other sectors of the media. As well as state television and radio and the government press agency, advertising from state-controlled companies keeps a host of smaller right-wing publications afloat. The party is particularly exercised at German companies owning Polish media.

Poland has seen a steady fall in perceptions of media freedom. In 2020, it came in 62nd out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index prepared by the NGO Reporters Without Borders, down from 18th in 2015.

PiS takes the local media. Black day for freedom of expression in Poland

Article originally published in Polish by the civil society-run media Krytyka Polityczna on 7 December 2020

The fact that Polska Press held such a dominant position in the local media segment was certainly a cause for concern and should perhaps be the subject of state intervention. But not like that.

The acquisition of almost all relevant regional newspapers and weekly magazines by the state-owned company in no way improves the situation in the local press segment, and even aggravates it. The private monopolist, forced to reckon with the economic calculus and elementary wishes of readers, is replaced by a state monopolist, who must reckon only with the wishes of the political system deciding who directs Orlen. It is difficult to imagine that the media seized by Orlen would be able to objectively look at the hands of the government in Warsaw or its associated local politicians.

We saw what it looked like in Hungary. Over the past decade, the Orbán-linked oligarchy – which is rich in government contracts – has bought most of the independent media, removing content that is uncomfortable for power. It is estimated that up to 90% of the media in Hungary are now under the control of the government or its associated oligarchs.

More than 100 newspapers under the boot of power

Article originally published in Polish by OKO.press, the main Polish investigative journalism portal, on 7 December 2020

Since taking power in 2015, PiS has said it will create a law on media deconcentration to adapt the media market Polish western European countries, according to the party’s message. The model was supposed to be a French model, or rather a distorted version of it, as we showed in OKO.press.

By law, PiS wanted to gain influence over the media, which it considers hostile: the Onet portal belonging to the Ringier Axel Springer group, managed by the German, Swiss and American capital, and the American discovery television TVN, and in particular its news channel – TVN24. But it ended up just words. The power camp of the law never showed, let alone passed it.

The announced law was also seen as an attempt to restrict freedom of expression in Poland, but the legislative process would be a much more transparent measure: the law would be passed in parliament, even a residual discussion and even a parliamentary consultation would take place. On Monday, December 7, however, the power camp decided to shoot the media from behind the parliament: out of all control, using Orlen money to appropriate the media.