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PKN Orlen is said to be in talks with Polska Press about a potential takeover- reports “The Economist”. The publisher owns 20 out of 24 regional dailies in Poland, including such major titles as „Dziennik Zachodni”, „Dziennik Bałtycki”, or „Dziennik Łódzki”.

Why does Orlen want to take over Polska Press?

Polska Press is the Polish arm of the German publishing group Verlagsgruppe Passau (VGP). PKN Orlen is reported to have entered negotiations with VGP about purchasing the publisher. The decision is meant to further the ruling camp’s efforts to “repolonise” the country’s media market. If successful, „The Economist” points out, the transaction would be a step towards neutralizing government-critical private media outlets.

„Though most of these papers have a relatively small circulation, they are important for the ruling party because their readers tend to be in rural, very Catholic parts of Poland, its core constituency”– writes the British-based weekly.

But why would the state-owned oil giant be interested in taking over a media company? It is worth recalling that the Chief Executive Officer of Orlen- Daniel Obajtek- is a key business figure appointed by the Law and Justice party. With his help, the ruling camp could effectively take control of the regional press market.

“Taking its cue from Hungary’s illiberal rulers,” explains The Economist, “Law and Justice is now eyeing private media outfits, such as Fakt, a popular tabloid owned by Ringier Axel Springer, a German-American-Swiss group, and tvn, a television network owned by Discovery, an American firm. Another target is Gazeta Wyborcza, the most popular broadsheet, which is co-owned by Agora, a Polish group, and two American firms. The ruling party is squeezing Gazeta by blocking state-controlled businesses from advertising in it. Private firms that want to do business with the state think twice as well”.

Orlen remains silent

The article fails to mention whether Orlen commented on its negotiations with Polska Press.

We asked both companies to provide us with such a comment. By the time of publishing this article, however, the state-owned petrol retailer didn’t answer our request. The spokesperson for Polska Press, Joanna Pazio, refused to comment, too.

Reports about the oil company’s politically-motivated plans to enter a market that has nothing to do with its core interests in the fuel and energy sector have left the investors somewhat rattled. On Friday, by noon, Orlen's shares lost more than 3.2 percent in value (PLN 45.15 per share).

Orlen’s media takeover continues

It’s worth pointing out that Orlen’s plans to take over the regional press market are not its first attempt at getting involved in the Polish media industry. In June, Orlen announced its plans to buy 65 percent of shares in the leading national network of newsstands, Ruch, and become the company’s majority investor responsible for its development.

Commenting on the investment, however, the state-owned company described these plans as a realization of its retail development strategy. Back then, it did not mention the idea of entering the publishing market.

Yet, so far, Orlen did not follow through on these announcements. According to data from the government-run National Court Register database, Ruch’s only shareholder is Harberton- an asset of Alior Bank. 

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