Hungary’s largest opposition daily shut down

On Saturday, Hungarians were shocked to discover that the publication of Népszabadság–the country’s largest circulation political daily newspaper–was suspended indefinitely. The paper, with a paid daily circulation of 38,000 copies, no longer appeared in print, it’s rich online archive of articles and its dynamic website are all gone, journalists and workers have all been locked out of their offices, their work email addresses have been terminated and the future now looks especially grim for what little remains of Hungary’s independent media. The editors and journalists of Népszabadság–suddenly finding themselves unemployed–are calling what happened ” a putsch,” and with good reason.

Népszabadság was suddenly shut down Saturday morning. Hungary lost its main opposition daily.

Népszabadság was suddenly shut down Saturday morning. Hungary lost its main opposition daily.

Early this morning, Népszabadság’s workers were informed by  courier-delivered letter that they no longer have a job. That’s when they realized that their emails no longer work, that they no longer have access to their offices and that the venerable publication’s website is gone too. The paper’s editors now only have control of Népszabadság’s Facebook page, where they posted the following brief message:

“Dear followers, Népszabadság’s editors were informed at the same time as the broader public that the paper is closed effective immediately. Our first thought is that this is a putsch.”

Népszabadság's workers pose for a group photo Saturday morning, after they found out that their paper has been shuttered.

Népszabadság’s workers pose for a group photo Saturday morning, after they found out that their paper has been shuttered.

Népszabadság, established on November 2nd, 1956–during the days of the Hungarian Revolution and as a successor to a daily entitled Szabad Nép–once served as the central organ of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party. The publication became a critical, independent centre-left daily following the transition to democracy in 1989/90. A majority of its shares were transferred to private, foreign corporations and the Free Press Foundation, affiliated with the Hungarian Socialist Party, only retained a minority share in the publication until 2015, when even that was sold.

Népszabadság is currently owned by Austria’s Mediaworks, which claims that the firm is simply “restructuring” and is hoping to place a new Népszabadság on a profitable and sustainable footing, after years of losses. In a bilingual (Hungarian/English) press release, Austria’s Mediaworks writes:

Despite revenue growth and management’s cost-cutting measures, Népszabadság has so far been unable to achieve economic success, and management’s priority must be to resolve this, finding the best future business model. Népszabadság has lost 74% of its sold circulation in the past 10 years, corresponding to more than 100,000 copies. Consequently, since 2007, it has produced more than HUF five billion in losses. So far this year, this business segment has again generated a considerable net loss. In order to preserve Népszabadság for the future, Mediaworks management will focus on finding the best business model for the paper, in line with the current trends in the industry, and will start consultations in order to best secure future development. In order to achieve and concentrate fully on this priority task, all operations of Népszabadság (including print and online) will as of today be suspended until the new form is decided and can be implemented.”

But there is potentially much more to Népszabadság’s demise than what meets the eye in the Mediaworks press release. The Hungarian press has been rife with speculation and reports for the past four months that business interests closely aligned with Hungary’s governing Fidesz party are seeking to buy Mediaworks’ publication holdings in Hungary. The mayor of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s hometown of Felcsút–Lőrinc Mészáros–who suddenly became a multi-million dollar businessman in the last six years, is reported to be associated with the Hungarian, pro-Fidesz business interests hoping to scoop up most of what is left of the independent media in Hungary. In fact, Fidesz Vice-President Gábor Kubator reportedly declared this past August: “Népszabadság is ours.”

But party interests were reportedly less interested in keeping Népszabadság, with its declining circulation, and were far more inclined to scoop up the more successful local and regional papers published by Mediaworks. The Austrian firm owns local and regional publications in 12 out of the 19 counties in Hungary. These not only offer the most revenue opportunities, but they are much more influential in reaching local, “everyday” Hungarians, while Népszabadság is primarily read by those who follow Hungarian politics most closely.

Fidesz knows that it can best reach the broader public through tabloids and lighter entertainment. This is why it was so critical for the party’s business interests to buy out the commercial TV2 network.

As the liberal 444.hu wrote this morning in a scathing response to Népszabadság’s demise:

“Népszabadság’s shuttering was not a rational economic decision. It was instead the latest move of a vengeful, fearful, primitive and increasingly authoritarian regime (…) On paper, Mediaworks is owned by Heinrich Pecina. There are all kinds of theories floating around about who controls him, but all of these theories point in one direction–Pecina receives orders by he, who pays the most. In today’s Hungary, there can be no question about who can pay the most. It is the tight, political-economic circle, commanded by Viktor Orbán, which does not yet have total political economic and intellectual power over an ever smaller piece of Hungary.”

Szilárd Németh, vice-president of Fidesz, was asked by journalists about his views on Népszabadság’s shuttering. “It was long overdue for Népszabadság to close without notice. This is my humble opinion,” declared Mr. Németh callously and rather oddly. It was long overdue for Népszabadság to close without notice? 

Fidesz then quickly issued a statement and confirmed that it made economic sense for Népszabadság to close, since it was running a loss, but rejected that politics had anything to do with the move.

Absolutely nobody in Hungary who still has a head on his or her shoulders actually believes that.

Népszabadság’s employees, readers and Hungarian activists are planning a public protest in Budapest on Saturday evening.

 

14 Comments

  1. Hey Christopher,

    Oh my gosh. This is really shocking news. I hope the paper returns and employees get their jobs back. Free speech shouldn’t be a privilege, but a right.

    Dennis

  2. A shock, but no surprise. Orban is tightening his grip and no one with the power to oppose him — the Hungarian electorate, the EU and the US — is doing a thing to stop Hungary’s slide toward becoming a police state. Maybe the Clinton presidency will be the turning point. That Orban should continue to prevail is as unthinkable as that Trump should get elected (though his nomination and following are almost as unthinkable). This has been a sad spell for sense and decency globally, but Lilliputin, Putin, Erdogan and Trump are the bottom of today’s dump of deplorables (west of Asia and north of Africa).

  3. Charlie London says:

    The ‘starve-them-of-government-advertising’ technique – when government advertising is the only advertising in town – to make a media portal financially unviable and then buy it at a basement price has been the defining principal of this corrupt, controlling commocracy.

    Szilárd Németh is a bone-headed thug who has the intelligence of a gnat.

    Soon all media will be in Orban’s control – vicariously through close Fidesz oligarchs beholden to their master.

    If you pick up a newspaper for a song – the music will be chosen by Viktor.

    You fools, Hungary.

    Brainwashed fools who vote for Orban.

  4. Not so unexpected, part of the embezzled billions is “reinvested” in politics, in this case to eliminate free media so facilitating more embezzlement (the Simicska pattern).
    The fascist state hardens.

  5. Unless a publishing company is employee owned they have no editorial independence but even in case they have they might be timid and careful picking a fight with the power elite as they might not be able to get away with a simple warning. That’s not a typically Hungarian problem.

    It seems to me that the fight and things are getting bigger than Orban and I don’t think if we will ever meet the real boss. Like Lawrence Butcher, since when do an uneducated gas fitter have the knowledge and the experience to successfully handle multi-million dollar businesses and navigate in the risky field of business, banking, and economy where even the most educated often fail?
    ————
    “Brainwashed fools who vote for Orban.”

    Isn’t this lovely? I remember the campaign of the opposition, allow me not to name those publications, a call for a full boycott of the 2014 election saying a real democrat will not go to vote to legalize an illegal election. Go boycott, kill Orban off with a boycott, they said. People meekly stayed at home only Orban’s fans went and outnumbered the possible opposition thus securing a two third for him. Even like that was a hair’s breadth losing their two third which could have caused a psychological distress within the Fidesz circles that could have led to inner fights and the weakening of the government. Let alone the opposition could have done more. If there were any real opposition at all.

    Very few brave people dared raise their voice against this stupidity like a nice journalist on KHM, Ms. Rátesi.

    Boycotting democratic elections and referendums, how smart. How successful, has it ever made anything better? Has it solved the problem?

  6. Independent??? Until last year or so, it was owned by the MSZP’s foundation. Otherwise, good riddance – having Népszabadság as direct heir of Szabad Nép parallels with Völkischer Beobachter remaining as “respectable independent journal” after the demise of Nazism in Germany. And no sane businessman/corporation would tolerate such a massive loss (5 billion HuF) and loss of over 74% readership.

  7. It’s an interesting blog appeared in the Financial Times.

    https://www.ft.com/content/1f15cc30-8d5e-11e6-a72e-b428cb934b78

    FT previously was owned by the Rothschild’s who sold off their stake in the FT to the Japanese Nikkei group in August 2015 to cash it out in haste as they were threatened that their media control could be confiscated by anti-trust action.

    Nikkei is employee owned and independent. Fukuyama regularly pays attention to Hungary.

    • Charlie London says:

      FT owned by the Rothschild’s?

      You’re off your trolley.

      They may have owned shares in it like my pension fund.

      It’s another manifestation of your nasty anti-Semitism

      Being off your trolley with conspiracy theories is not unexpected for you – I don’t normally read your ectoplasmic belches – and this was mercifully short.

      Killer fact of the day?

      Your protracted incoherent ectoplasmic belches spoil Christopher’s blog with your prolix diarrhoea – do you really believe people read you?

      Such a waste of your time – and others.

      By not mine – just an annoying obstructive nuisance.

      But you know this – I’ve told you before.

      • “They may have owned shares in it like my pension fund.”

        That’s what I wrote. 😀

        “Rothschild’s who sold off their stake.”

        FT was under Rothschild’s control they practically owned FT and I also wrote why and how it was sold out to Nikkei.

        I only can repeat what I wrote earlier, it doesn’t matter how idiot and what a brainless Mongoloid mental freak you are who are trying to accuse other posters with antisemitism only for mentioning basic facts that are true, readers who are interested in it will look after that and will see I told the truth. Specifically after you have highlighted my post with your usual arrogant insults you pathetic retard.

        Basically this is not my style but I’m trying to satisfy your needs to exchange ideas in your style. Hope you enjoyed it you dribbling filth. 😀 😀

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  9. Hello Charlie,

    my little pet chimpanzee, how is your blood pressure, did you have a little rest, climbed out from the restroom that you naturally inhabit? Ready for the next step?

    My question is; why you little disgusting spineless sneaky reptilian cover your arrogant and insulting comments with a blatant rant of protecting Christopher’s blog instead of taking the responsibility for your ugly hostile behavior and unwashed mouth, why you drag him, why you mix a third person into your filthy game as a self-justification and possible support?

    Now, what is your real problem, why did you insult me?
    You did it because I quoted from you in my post, and explained well what a big mistake it was to try to boycott the election and the referendum.
    And I was right. And you my little ape knew it and as usual you didn’t have the IQ to argue and defend what you wrote, and instead you picked at me and insulted me with something in your helpless wrath you coward.

    Now, is the boycott a good idea? Helpless last shelter of the frustrated who can’t control the situation, an opposition who can’t offer any better alternative that people could accept.

    I think I’m right and I maintain what I said in my last post

    on October 7, 2016 at 12:08 pm I wrote in the thread

    “Viktor Orbán will disregard referendum result — Announces immediate constitutional amendment”

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