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Monday, December 7, 2020. The state-run oil company Orlen announces its decision to buy 100% of shares in the Polska Press media group, effectively becoming the sole owner of 20 regional dailies, 120 local weeklies, and 500 online news portals with an average monthly reach of 17 mln readers.

Commenting on the news, an Onet journalist, Kamil Dziubka, wrote: “Orlen just made Jarosław Kaczyński’s dream come true”. Kaczyński’s close ally, the MEP Joachim Brudziński, took to Twitter to respond: “JK’s (Jarosław Kaczyński’s) dream is a Poland that is a strong and prosperous member of the European Union. Poland is not an 'ugly maiden with no dowry'. JK dreams of an economically, scientifically, financially strong Poland, a Poland that has to be reckoned with in the EU, and not a Poland which lets itself be colonialized".

 Orlen’s Monday announcement means that the ruling Law and Justice party is moving on with its long-heralded plans to “repolonise” the media. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Polska Press became its very first victim. - When they first approached us, they mentioned a “green light from Kaczyński himself”. The chair of the Law and Justice party was said to be obsessed with the local newspaper market. We were reminded of how much it pained Kaczyński to see “Gazeta Olszyńska” being bought by the Germans- one of the former chief editors from Polska Press group recalls.

A years-long effort

October 2016. The first time "Wyborcza" reports about the state treasury’s plans to acquire Polska Press.

- Everything was supposed to be finalized by 2018. The point was to have the support of regional media before local elections- one of the managers of Polska Press said in an interview. At that time, PKO BP bank was supposed to be the buyer. Our sources point to Max Kraczkowski, the bank’s deputy chair and a former Law and Justice MP, as the person in charge of the purchase.

The government’s takeover of Polska Press proceeds under the banner of „repolonising” media and „reclaiming Polish newspapers from the German hands”.

For years, Kaczyński’s party has been attacking the media owned by private German corporations, claiming that their editorial offices and journalists follow the guidelines of the foreign owners. The allegations are not backed up by any evidence, but the media belonging to Axel Springer ("Fakt", "Newsweek", Onet), Bauer (RMF Radio, entertainment press), and Polska Press (Passauer) regional newspapers have been the main targets of these attacks.

Although Polska Press itself denies the information, the words of Maria Koc, a Law and Justice senator and the former deputy speaker of the senate, give it enough credibility. In an on-air interview with the state broadcaster TVP, she said: - I am a strong advocate of media repolonisation because the role of the media is to serve the public. They shape public opinion. Put simply, they have great influence over what is happening in the country. When the majority of Poland’s regional media are in the hands of foreign capital, it is necessary to consider whose point of view these media represent. Adding: - We must find the required capital that could invest in these titles, we need to fight for them. A situation when most regional media, 90 percent of them, are in the hands of foreign capital, is dangerous.

Repolonisation picks up speed

In the years to follow, "media repolonisation" becomes part of Law and Justice’s official agenda. The Ministry of Culture is drafting a bill, but it will never see daylight. Following the 2020 presidential election, a former journalist and a Law and Justice MP, Joanna Lichocka, becomes the person in charge of the task.

The right-wing narrative about the alleged influence of foreign owners on the editorial line is simply not true. It does not, however, keep the ruling camp from reiterating the discourse. When during the election "Fakt" (owned by Axel Springer) criticized president Duda’s decision to pardon a pedophile, government officials and the president himself warned that "Germans want to decide who will be Poland’s next president”.

The Office of Competition and Consumer Protection investigated the issue of regional media concentration in the 1990s. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, special services also conducted their analyses. They investigated whether the content appearing in the newspapers owned by Passauer, especially those published in the Regained Territories (Silesia and Pomerania), “served the German interest”. No proof of that has been found.

Orlen takes over Polska Press. New job postings ahead

In terms of readership, Polska Press regional dailies are merely a shadow of what they used to be back in the 1990s. According to the latest rankings (source: Wirtualnemedia.pl), the most widely circulated among them is “Gazeta Pomorska” (21.000 sold copies). “Dziennik Zachodni” (16.000) and “Głos Wielkopolski” (14.000) are next in line. All the other daily papers register sales below 10.000 copies.

Not even the sale of digital subscriptions can compensate for the losses generated by the printed editions. However, each of the Polska Press dailies has its own online news service, on top of the group’s nearly 500 different portals that specialize in local affairs, sports, TV, and other topics.

Our informants weren’t clear about who it was that negotiated the acquisition of Polska Press on Orlen’s behalf this time. However, the sources we spoke to pointed out that all the decisions made by the chair of the state-owned oil company, Daniel Obajtek, are directly coordinated with Jarosław Kaczyński. Jacek and Michał Karnowski, publishers of the pro-government weekly “Sieci”, the portal “wPolityce.pl”, and owners of an online television channel, are also Kaczyński’s key advisors. Mr. Obajtek is their regular guest, and both brothers are in direct contact with the chair of Law and Justice. The role of Patrycja Kotecka, a former journalist and privately the wife of Minister Zbigniew Ziobro, should also not be underestimated.

Although no representatives of other pro-government media attended the informal discussions, when it comes to taking over editorial control, there will certainly be room for everyone. -There are right-wing journalists in every city who have barely made ends meet for years. They can expect to see a bunch of new job postings- our source tells us

Up for grabs are 20 positions of editors-in-chief, their deputies, editors of online portals, heads of current regional branches of Polska Press, printing houses, and managerial positions in the entire corporate structure.

One of the managers of Polska Press, asking to remain anonymous, says that "maybe it won’t be that bad, maybe not all of the papers will become partisan- They probably don't even have enough staff to do it...” - he adds, concluding: - Well, you jinxed it, here comes your repolonisation.

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