Hungarian right-wingers proud that their media empire relies on taxpayer subsidies to survive

If it were not for lavish government subsidies transferred to pro-Orbán propaganda news outlets, not a single Hungarian right-wing newspaper or publication would survive beyond a couple of weeks. Publications like the main government daily, Magyar Idők, would almost certainly go out of business in a matter of days were it not for transfers from public coffers, mostly in the form of government advertising. The propaganda publication does not permit for an independent audit by a third-party company of their subscription and sales numbers, but according to an estimate published by earlier this year, the Fidesz print daily sells approximately 2,200 copies per day. Magyar Idők never contested the accuracy of an estimate that, if true, should be disastrous for the paper. Despite the fact that Magyar Idők is effectively moribund, last year the daily received 897 million forints in government subsidies, in the form of advertising. The absurdity of this volume of paid government notices in a paper thoroughly rejected by Hungarian consumers is stinging. Fully 87 percent of Magyar Idők’s advertising revenue comes from taxpayer funding. The situation at the other Fidesz propaganda daily, Magyar Hírlap, is not much better. The paper sells approximately 5,000 copies per day. Yet inexplicably here too, a publication rejected by consumers receives 637 million forints in government assistance.

Magyar Idők issue from August 2018.

As a point of comparison, according to an independent audit by MATESZ from the first quarter of 2018, the last remaining opposition daily, Népszava, sells 19,927 copies per day and received 260 million forints in government subsidies, through advertising. At that time the conservative opposition daily Magyar Nemzet had yet to cease publication and their daily sales stood at 13,365 copies.

This month we learned about two new developments in the world of Hungarian media, neither positive. First, the opposition Vasárnapi Hírek weekly has ceased publication, becoming instead an eight-page supplement to the Saturday issue of Népszava. The shuttering of the weekly is a reflection of market realities and this is what should also happen to the country’s two Fidesz propaganda dailies. The second piece of news is more significant. Almost the entire Fidesz media empire is being brought under the auspices of a single owner, namely the foundation registered under the name Közép-európai Sajtó és Média Alapítvány. On the board of directors of this now all-powerful media giant is Viktor Orbán’s personal lawyer and Fidesz politician István Bajkai. Thanks to various (proxy) owners of different pro-Fidesz media organs voluntarily “gifting” their media holding to this Foundation over the past few days, the following major media outlets are now under explicit party direction:

  • Magyar Idők
  • Echo TV
  • Hír TV
  • Figyelő
  • Lokál
  • Retro Radio
  • Riport
  • Bors

From the perspective of audience and public reach, the tabloid Bors and the free Lokál print publication are the most significant. But beyond the unprecedented party control of “private” media in Hungary and the ability to more effectively coordinate propaganda messaging directly from the Fidesz Politburo, the real significance here is that Fidesz is able to more handily transfer taxpayer money into the pockets of party businessmen.

In a sign that nothing much matters anymore in Hungary, the public announcement about the media empire congregating under the Foundation was an expression of pride in the fact that moribund publications purchased by almost nobody will happily survive by more effective parasitical activity against taxpayers.

“It is a huge step forward for the media market in Hungary that the sustainability of media organs under the holding has improved and that turning a profit is no longer essential…At the same time, we can detect that the left-wing press is falling apart. Liberal media organs are writhing, because without a foreign owner or foreign support they can hardly keep themselves alive.”

Great woe and gnashing of teeth will one day, who knows how far in the distant future, befall the Hungarian right. When this blatantly corrupt and singularly arrogant regime collapses, Hungary will be left with not a single right-wing media outlet or publication. The political right, having become exceptionally comfortable living off government assistance and not even worrying about actually sustaining a readership, will have nobody to blame but itself.

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