Polish Agora to meet European officials over its blocked radio deal

WARSAW, April 28 (Reuters) - Polish media group Agora, the owner of an antigovernment newspaper, said it would meet representatives of the European Commission at the start of May to complain about Poland’s regulator blocking its takeover of radio broadcaster Eurozet.

In January Poland’s anti-monopoly watchdog (UOKiK) blocked Agora’s takeover of Eurozet due to competition concerns, but critics said the decision was politically motivated as the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party aims to increase its influence on the media.

The European Commission has already expressed concern over media freedom in Poland.

Agora’s flagship product is the Gazeta Wyborcza daily newspaper - a fierce critic of the PiS government.

“Agora is in a dialogue with the European Commission, and specifically with the Directorate General Competition which has become interested in the UOKiK decision,” the company said in a statement e-mailed to Reuters.

Agora bought a 40% stake in Eurozet, the owner of Radio Zet, in 2019, while Czech SFS Ventures fund bought the remaining 60%.

That deal was criticized by PiS as a threat to Polish media plurality amid media reports that SFS Ventures is linked to billionaire George Soros, who promotes liberal causes and backs opposition media.

Soros’ office has declined to comment on the reports.

Local media had also reported that PiS-friendly media group Fratria was also interested in taking over Radio Zet.

In September 2019 Agora decided to exercise an option to buy out SFS Ventures. Agora asked UOKiK for approval of the deal at the end of 2019, which was blocked.

Agora appealed UOKiK’s decision to block the transaction in February, “pointing to gross violations of the law that occurred when issuing the decision.”

PiS has said that foreign media companies have too much influence in Poland.

Two months ago UOKiK approved the takeover of regional newspapers publisher Polska Press by state-run oil refiner PKN Orlen from a German media company, in an unusual deal which raised eyebrows and which critics suggested was politically motivated.

PKN Orlen said it was a business transaction, helping them diversify, and they would make use of Polska Press subscribers. (Reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko Editing by Alexandra Hudson)