Norway’s sovereign wealth fund manager has escalated its action against Polish state-run petrol firm PKN Orlen, which took over the country’s main local newspaper group two years ago on human rights grounds.

Norges Bank Investment Management (NBIM), which manages the NOK13.6tn (€1.25trn) Government Pension Fund Global (GPFG), announced yesterday it decided to put the firm under observation for three years “due to unacceptable risk that the company contributes to serious violations of human rights” under the fund’s guidelines.

“The decision is based on a recommendation from the Council on Ethics of 24 October 2022,” NBIM said.

At the end of 2022, NBIM had NOK1.92bn (€175m) invested in PKN Orlen, according to the SWF’s website.

PKN Orlen announced at the end of 2020 that it was acquiring Polska Press, saying the move would give it access to 17.4 million internet users as well as the opportunity to win new customers.

However, the GPFG manager said in 2021 that it had started talks with PKN Orlen.

Since PKN Orlen’s takeover Polska Press in March 2021, eight editors-in-chief of the regional newspapers owned by Polska Press had by then been dismissed or pushed out.

In the text of its recommendation to Norges Bank, the Council on Ethics said last October the background of its advice was Orlen’s acquisition Polska Press and its implications for freedom of the press in Poland.

”The acquisition of Polska Press gives Orlen control over the majority of the country’s regional newspapers, in addition to a large number of local media companies and online portals,” it said.

“Numerous key actors have pointed out that the state’s ownership of Orlen potentially exposes Polska Press to the exercise of political influence and that the acquisition therefore has an adverse impact on freedom of expression,” the council wrote.

It added that the risk of political interference was particularly serious in connection with elections, and that several parties had expressed serious concern about the independence of Polska Press’s publications in connection with the upcoming parliamentary elections in Poland in November 2023.

“Due to this uncertainty about future developments, the Council recommends that the company be placed under observation,” it said.

IPE has contacted PKN Orlen for comment.

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