An investment group backed by billionaire George Soros has taken a majority stake in a Polish media house that publishes one of the country’s leading newspapers, Rzeczpospolita.
The move is the latest in a series of investments in Poland’s media market linked to Soros, who is a prominent supporter of liberal political causes. Some figures associated with Poland’s conservative ruling camp have raised concern about the latest deal, which comes just weeks before elections.
Soros przejął „Rzeczpospolitą”. sześć tygodni przed wyborami w Polsce.
— Dorota Kania (@DorotaKania2) August 25, 2023
Amsterdam-registered Pluralis BV, which last year completed the purchase of a 40% stake in Gremi Media, announced on Friday that it has exercised its option to purchase further shares, bringing its stake to 52%.
It has replaced KCI, a holding company belonging to Polish businessman Grzegorz Hajdarowicz, as the largest shareholder in Gremi Media, which, as well as Rzeczpospolita, publishes Parkiet, a business and finance newspaper.
“This means that Pluralis takes over control of Gremi Media and will be able to fully make decisions regarding the board and editorial management,” Rzeczpospolita‘s editor-in-chief, Bogusław Chrabota, told the Polish Press Agency (PAP).
“Due to the fact that they took over the company in order to expand, not to liquidate or destroy, I hope that everything that is valuable will remain in the company and it will continue to develop,” he added.
Rzeczpospolita – whose name means “Republic” in Polish – has Poland’s second-largest circulation among non-tabloid dailies. Last year, it was the most regularly quoted newspaper in the country, according to analysis by the Institute of Media Monitoring.
Jest nowy większościowy właściciel wydawcy „Rzeczpospolitej”. Została nim spółka zarejestrowana w Holandii, w której wpływy ma George Soros. O transakcji pisze też zagraniczna prasa. Bloomberg opisuje ją w kontekście zbliżających się wyborów i nacisków… https://t.co/bZZT6NX1wJ
— Business Insider Polska 🇵🇱 (@BIPolska) August 25, 2023
Pluralis was launched in 2021 as a coalition of European media companies, foundations and investors with the aim of “supporting plurality of news across Europe”. It is controlled by a consortium of shareholders including the King Baudouin Foundation (28.46%), Mediahuis (25.39%) and the Soros Economic Development Fund (17.41%).
Luc Tayart de Borms, managing director of the King Baudouin Foundation, told news outlet Wirtualne Media that Pluralis was “pleased to invest in…one of the most respected news brands in Poland” and would “actively participate…to facilitate the company’s development and value creation”.
Pluralis is managed by the Media Development Investment Fund (MDIF), which also owns a 2.02% stake. MDIF, which is funded among others by Soros’s Open Society Foundations, has also invested in Poland’s Radio Zet and Agora.
The latter group publishes Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland’s best-selling non-tabloid daily and a strong critic of the current government.
Soros-backed investor completes 40% purchase of leading Polish media house https://t.co/zNzXt9fIm4
— Caroline de Gruyter (@CarolineGruyter) January 10, 2022
News of Pluralis’s investment was met with concern by figures associated with Poland’s ruling camp, including Paweł Kukiz, leader of a small group allied with the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party and who will be standing as a PiS candidate in October’s parliamentary elections.
“Rzeczpospolita bought by Soros…More media outside Polish influence – because whoever owns them, dictates their message,” tweeted Kukiz. “And the message can be manipulated to act like a drug that stupifies people to benefit the dealer.”
Meanwhile, state broadcaster TVP – which is a PiS mouthpiece – broadcast a news report on Saturday entitled: “Do Germany and Soros want to influence the results of elections in Poland?”
Its reporter warned that “Soros’s involvement in Polish affairs is dangerous”, noting that the billionaire has been “criticised for using his enormous fortune to influence governments of many countries”.
PiS has itself been accused of seeking to exert control over Poland’s media. Under its rule, the country has fallen from its highest-ever position of 18th in the World Press Freedom Index in 2015 – the year PiS came to power – to its lowest-ever position of 66th last year.
The ruling party, however, argues that it has simply been seeking to ensure that Polish media are in the hands of Polish owners – including state energy firm Orlen – and rebalancing a media landscape that was previously dominated by liberal and left-leaning outlets.
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Main image credit: Przemek Wierzchowski / Agencja Gazeta
Daniel Tilles is editor-in-chief of Notes from Poland. He has written on Polish affairs for a wide range of publications, including Foreign Policy, POLITICO Europe, EUobserver and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.