Heti Válasz — Another opposition publication goes out of business

Heti Válasz, the conservative weekly magazine established by Fidesz in 2001 using public funds, announced that it is suspending its print edition effective immediately. Since 2015, Fidesz politicians and Hungarian civil servants have been prohibited from giving interviews to Heti Válasz, as the publication assumed a more critical tone in relation to the Orbán government after owner Lajos Simicska’s falling out with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. The magazine transformed from a loyal and unwavering organ of the ruling party to an independent publication offering measured political analysis from a conservative perspective. It lost 82% of its advertising revenue as a direct consequence. It’s worth noting that much of this revenue came from government ads or from publicly-owned companies, as is the case with almost every other political news publication in Hungary. While Heti Válasz maintained balanced financial operations from 2007 to 2015, it tanked in the past three years and lost a fifth of its readership.

The cover of the last print issue of Heti Válasz.

Gábor Borókai, Heti Válasz’s editor-in-chief and once the spokesperson of the first Orbán government (1998-2002), explained that an American-Hungarian businessman with ties to the Republican Party initially expressed interest in buying Heti Válasz; this after owner Lajos Simicska made it clear following the 8 April election that he was liquidating much of his media empire, including the now defunct Magyar Nemzet daily, Lánchíd Rádió and in short order his weekly magazine as well. The unnamed American businessman, however, decided to pull out, when he realized that it was impossible to make Heti Válasz profitable in light of the Orbán government’s boycott.

The last print issue of Heti Válasz will appear on 7 June. The publishing company has sought bankruptcy protection. Over the next three months, Heti Válasz will appear weekly in digital format only, as the team tries to find a way out of their financial predicament and somehow restructure. In 2018, Heti Válasz sold 10,368  copies per week of the print publication. With this gone, the on-going boycott and now bankruptcy protection, it appears unlikely that Heti Válasz will be able to survive even in just digital format. Mr. Borókai did, however, suggest that the publication could be given a new lease on life with a new team of editors and writers. What this in all likelihood means is that the publication might be taken over by loyal Orbánists, provided that the ruling party wants yet another publication to prop up using taxpayer funds. Each and every Hungarian pro-government publication is being kept alive using lavish taxpayer funding.

“Thank you for all the critical comments, as well as the accolades during the time that we spent together. In order to continue, we wish for everyone, including our friends, as well as our opponents, a good country. We will never give up our belief that we too will have a place in it,” wrote Mr. Borókai in his farewell to the print edition.

The government boycott and the connected collapse of advertising revenue are the most important reasons for the demise of Heti Válasz. But there is another reason too, and Hungarian society must take responsibility for this one. It costs money to produce good content and quality reporting, yet Hungarians seem especially inclined to expect this for free, online. When a skilled Hungarian editor with good name recognition attempted to create a quality, subscription-based political digital publication called Politis, his project failed, as it became abundantly clear that Hungarians were not willing to pay for news, nor to financially support quality journalism. For good, independent journalism, you need a community of Hungarians who care enough that they are willing to open their wallets and support such initiatives.

10 Comments

  1. Bendeguz79 says:

    Government maintained press from public funds is only an open evidence of not having press freedom. Hungary is too small and the public is too poor that a vibrant and free press could successfully function.

    And as the author stated, the public is not interested in slanted news information. Those that master some other language can easily tune in to international newscasts and obtains free and unbiased news any time.

  2. Hungarians have exactly what they deserve, both in terms of government and press.

  3. There is another dimension to this sorry saga about the emasculation and strangulation of fearless, factual and balanced journalism in Hungary. Government advertising, or lack thereof is a critical factor in the equation, as is the weaning-off of Hungarians from anything but the crassest of tabloid infotainment. A third and equally critical role is played by the utter absence of socially responsible corporate behavior in Hungary. Hungary’s corporate establishment is buried deeply in the backside of Orbán’s autocratic regime, unable and unwilling to see beyond its nose. It backs away from any medium that does not praise the virtues of the ruling autocracy. Examples of this kind of behavior are also observable in Canada, or America, but here, for the time being, the corporate establishment is not so one-sidedly preoccupied. (Give them time, they may follow suit sooner than latter ?)

    No wonder Steve Bannon and the entire alt-right movement adores Orbán. He knows how to corner the market and get away with it. Soon he’ll be the talk of the town in Washington, a pampered, highly praised guest of the Donald himself.

    • Andràs BG

      There is no “cornering the market” here, Orbán doesn’t like free markets, his modus is
      – orders to direct public funds here or there mainly disguised as advertising, but also as fees for bogus studies, development grants, etc on the one hand and
      – threats to cut such funding for anyone advertising in unfriendly outlets and boycott and harass them on the other hand.

      It’s “emaciation” you meant, not emasculation (my spell checker does it all the time).

  4. Bendeguz79 says:

    Dr. Gollner;

    Steve Bannon is long gone. He fell out of favor long ago. Trump fires them all faster than on the “Apprentice”. Have you not noticed that yet ?

  5. HFP
    Klub Rádió – You could have mentioned the one “community of Hungarians who care enough that they are willing to open their wallets and support such initiatives.” -the listeners of KR provide substantial and crucial financial support to the embattled station, which has been foughing in court and on the market against the onslaught of the Orbán regime.

  6. StrandedinSopron says:

    “in 2018, Heti Válasz sold 10,368 copies per week of the print publication.”

    In a normally functioning democracy there is no reason whatsoever that the government should be blamed for keeping such magazines alive. If enough people are interested in reading their brand of journalism, then they will pay for it.

    There are two problems in Hungary. First the “market” is too economically small to support the number of “serious” publications that even now exist. Second, Hungary is not a “normally functioning democracy”.

    The government supports the kind of “journalism” that would be laughed out of court in any democracy- just to take one example, Origo.hu now is a virulently racist version of the National Enquirer, I am waiting for the day that we see a “Muslim migrants flew into my garden on a flying saucer and ate my dog” headline. Unfortunately the core readership of the pro-Orban media would believe such a tale.

    And to an extent, I don’t really care what garbage they publish as it largely moronic material written by morons and read by morons.

    Where I do care is that it is my tax money which is subsidising this crap *and* the position in the countryside where only pro-state material is available.

  7. @ Observer

    Thanks for trying to help others get a better sense of what I meant to say, but I’m afraid I cannot offer you a cigar, when you try to put words in my mouth, that do not belong there.

    “Emasculation” is not an ambiguous word. It means – to make something weaker, less effective. If you want to use the word “emaciate” feel free to use it in an essay of your own making. The term, “cornering the market” should also be left in place, thank you. It’s a term for “manipulating the market” and is a device used by fraud artists like Orbán, who cannot compete fairly.

  8. @ Bendy-goose

    “Steve Bannon is long gone…have you not noticed?”

    Glad you got that one off your chest, canard. (Ask Observer to look up the meaning of that word. In Hungarian it means kacsa.) It must have been weighing heavily on your chest, like all the other nonsense you carry about you, that serves only to demonstrate why you can’t fly.

  9. StrandedinSopron says:

    Should read

    “In a normally functioning democracy there is no reason whatsoever that the government should be blamed for *not* keeping such magazines alive”

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