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10.04.2018

Just two days after Orbán's electoral win, two news outlets are closing down 

Hungary faces the third consecutive term of Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz party and probably even worse crackdowns on media than already before. ECPMF spoke with investigative journalist Anita Kőműves about the future of independent media in Hungary.

Hungary media freedom (photo by Anita Komuves, Atlatszo.hu)

What does Orbán's electoral success mean for media freedom in Hungary? 

The space for independent media has already started shrinking again in Hungary, just two days after the latest electoral victory for Viktor Orbán. The publisher of 80-year-old daily Magyar Nemzet has announced this morning [10 April 2018] that the newspaper’s last day of publication will be tomorrow. Neither the print paper, nor the website will be published any more. Also, a radio station called Lánchíd Rádió will also stop broadcasting tonight at midnight [10 April 2018].

Both media outlets, Magyar Nemzet and Lánchíd Rádió are belong to Lajos Simicska, a business owner who was a close friend of Orbán until a few years ago. Simicska and his business empire won many state-funded construction tenders until he and Orbán fell out at some point in 2014. Since then, Simicska's media outlets have been working to uncover government corruption. The closing of Magyar Nemzet means that another important critical voice is lost in Hungary.

What are you expecting in the coming weeks and months? 

I expect Orbán and his government to keep attacking independent media. This has been going on for several years. One of the main tools the government uses to dominate the media is the advertising market: the government and government-owned enterprises are huge advertisers, and this fact distorts the media market. It does not work as a free market at all. The government uses its advertising budget to fund media outlets that  promote its own point of view. Also, independent international companies are often influenced by the government when they make decisions about their advertising budget, because they know that if they want to win valuable public tenders and want to do business with the Hungarian state, they would be ill-advised to advertise with independent and critical outlets. This means that independent outlets might be left with zero advertising revenue while propaganda outlets that are friendly to Orbán are flooded with advertising money - even if they do not provide a significant audience reach for the advertisers. This results in strange situations: papers that sell 20 to 30 thousand copies receive no advertising where others that sell about 1000 to 2000 copies are flooded with money and advertising.

Anita Kőműves Anita Kőműves, Investigative journalist at Atlatszo.hu, who worked at Népszabadság for eleven years until the paper was closed in October 2016

And when you have a media outlet that has been bleeding money for years because it has been unable to attract advertisers for the reasons mentioned above, the owners are easily convinced to sell them. And when this point arrives, there is always a Hungarian business that is happy to buy the media outlet and turn it into another propaganda tool. Editors and journalists are replaced and the editorial line is changed. Something similar has happened to the websites origo.hu and vs.hu, and to the entire regional and rural print media, TV2, the news weekly Figyelő and many other outlets. Two major newspapers, Népszabadság and now Magyar Nemzet have been shut down. Metropol, the free city paper in the capital Budapest, has been replaced by Lokál - a paper owned by Orbán's spin-doctor, Árpád Habony.

You have to see that this method of media control is very useful for Orbán and his government because it looks like it is nothing else but market forces that are forcing owners to sell media outlets and close down papers. But this is not true: the media and advertising market in Hungary do not work as a free market and they are seriously distorted by the government.

I expect this process to continue in the future. Orbán does not tolerate critical voices and will keep on trying to shut them up.

How do you brace yourself for what is coming?

Personally, I will just keep doing my job as before. I work for a small independent outlet, Atlatszo.hu where we are completely free to do investigative work and uncover corruption because most of our funding comes from our readers.

And what can media freedom organisations like the ECPMF do?

Independent media in Hungary need both financial and moral support; financial support because not even a market can support it - it is not enough to create a good product because the media market is distorted and having a good product and an audience is not enough to break even. And Hungarian journalists need moral support as well because both the government and its propaganda media empire are waging a war against independent journalists. They are called 'Soros puppets' and they are discredited. Sometimes they are also the targets of character assassination attempts. They are also accused of spreading fake news - which is aimed at undermining the public's trust in the media.





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