WARSAW, April 30 (Reuters) - A Polish media group recently acquired by state-run refiner PKN Orlen has replaced top editors at three local newspapers, upsetting some reporters and the country's human rights ombudsman who see the move as a threat to media freedom.
Critics say the takeover of Polska Press from a German media group is part of a drive by Poland's ruling Law and Justice (PiS) to increase control over the media and curb free speech. PiS has said that foreign media companies have too much influence in Poland.
Polska Press said in a statement that personnel changes are subject to its management board decisions and that they result from a shift in "the concept of running newspapers and websites", as they focus more on local stories.
PKN Orlen said in a separate statement e-mailed to Reuters that it does not interfere in the Polska Press management board decisions, including those related to staff.
Human rights ombudsman Adam Bodnar, who appealed against the decision to grant antitrust approval to the deal, told Reuters that the court was now reviewing his appeal in full after it suspended the regulator's decision pending its review.
"When you are in the course of proceedings and you have an injunction you should stop your activities," he said.
"I think that this is one of the most important cases for Polish democracy and freedom of speech. It is not a typical business transaction."
Polish media began reporting the changes on Thursday.
"I believe that this is a wrong, unfair decision, or taking into account... political control of another part of the media in Poland, even scandalous," said Marcin Zasada, a journalist at Dziennik Zachodni, which had its editor replaced.
Polska Press trade union leader Dariusz Smigielski told Reuters that the changes were normal after a takeover and ordinary journalists had not been affected.
The most recent changes add to replacements in Polska Press management earlier this month. Since the deal was completed in early March, its former chief executive quit and PKN appointed a new CEO.
PKN Orlen also appointed Dorota Kania - a journalist and publicist openly supporting PiS and its policies - as a Polska Press board member.
In an interview published in Puls Biznesu daily on Friday, Chief Executive Daniel Obajtek said Orlen had the right to introduce changes.
"Everyone has the right to create the management of a company of which they are the owner," he said.
(Reporting by Alan Charlish, Joanna Plucinska, Anna Koper and Pawel Florkiewicz; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)
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