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UPDATE 1-Polish watchdog approves refiner PKN Orlen's takeover of Polska Press

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WARSAW, Feb 5 (Reuters) - Polish competition watchdog UOKiK has approved plans by state-run oil refiner PKN Orlen to buy regional newspaper publisher Polska Press from Germany’s Verlagsgruppe Passau.

The plan has been criticised by opposition political parties, which said the takeover is part of a wider project by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party to take more control over the media. PKN Orlen has said the deal is a business transaction.

“The planned concentration will not affect competition on the local press publishing market ... Only the owner of Polska Press will change, and the market shares of its individual participants remain unchanged,” UOKiK said in a statement.

PKN announced its plans to buy Polska Press in December. The media group publishes 20 regional dailies, about 100 local weeklies, several magazines and Naszemiasto.pl, a free city newspaper, according to its website.

It generated more than 398 million zlotys in revenue in 2019, PKN Orlen said in December without disclosing the price of the deal. The refiner offered a price of about 130 million zlotys ($34.6 million), according to a source close to the transaction.

The UOKiK said it had received expressions of concern that the deal could endanger media pluralism or limit freedom of speech but pointed out that the law requires that its decisions are made on the basis of the impact on competition.

The office has been blamed by the opposition for acting in line with PiS policies after it blocked a planned takeover of radio broadcaster by media group Agora, publisher of an anti-government daily. ($1 = 3.7530 zlotys)

Reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko Editing by David Goodman

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