Tycoon Shuts Down Print and Radio Outlets After Orban Win

Updated on
  • Magyar Nemzet daily newspaper closing after 80 years in print
  • Opposition politician offers to buy newspapers, radio station

A former Hungarian government ally-turned-opposition supporter shut down most of his news empire, in a sign that Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s overwhelming election victory may further weaken independent media.

Magyar Nemzet, a national daily newspaper established in 1938, said on its website Tuesday that it was working on its last edition. Lanchid radio, which belongs to the same media group owned by Lajos Simicska, also said it would shut down due to lack of financing.

Later on Tuesday, a potential investor, who may salvage these publications, surfaced. Peter Ungar, set to become a lawmaker for the opposition Lehet Mas a Politika party, offered to buy Magyar Nemzet, Lanchid Radio as well as weekly Heti Valasz with the real estate fortune he inherited.

Orban, who won a third consecutive parliamentary supermajority, has used the past eight years to extend his influence over the media as part of an unprecedented centralization of power despite European Union objections. Public media has been used as a channel for government propaganda. Orban pushed his allies to buy up key private media outlets. Hungary plunged to 71st place on the World Press Freedom Index last year, from 23rd when the prime minister returned to power in 2010.

OSCE Report

Simicska was a former ally of Orban until he fell out with the prime minister in 2015. That prompted Simicska to use his media empire to back the opposition and publish stories on corruption. Nepszabadsag, once the biggest opposition daily, shut down in 2016 after Orban’s allies bought it. Widely-read regional newspapers also passed into ownership friendly to Orban’s Fidesz party and now often churn out near-identical content about the premier.

Read more: on a U.S. attempt to boost Hungarian media pluralism

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which monitored the election, said the campaign was “characterized by a pervasive overlap between state and ruling party resources, undermining contestants’ ability to compete on an equal basis” in the media.

“Hungary is a constitutional democracy,” Orban told reporters in Budapest, rejecting criticism that the shrinking space for media and civil society undermined its democracy. He wouldn’t comment on privately-owned media.

Simicska’s outlets were often considered friendly to the Jobbik party, a former radical nationalist group that moved toward the political center. While Jobbik became the largest opposition party, its 19 percent national-list result and 25 mandates in the 199-seat parliament fell well short of its own expectations. Chairman Gabor Vona resigned from his position in the party and as a lawmaker.

Media Remnants

Fidesz plans to step up its crackdown of civil society groups, one of the last remaining sources of scrutiny into Orban’s government along with the remnants of independent media.

The legislation dubbed a “Stop Soros” bill will the among the first laws passed by the new parliament, a Fidesz spokesman said on Monday. Named after the Hungarian-born billionaire George Soros, who Orban has accused of trying to flood Europe with refugees, the bill is aimed at limiting, and potentially preventing, foreign funding of non-governmental organizations and penalizing those seen as supporting illegal immigration.

— With assistance by Marton Eder

(Updates with offer for media outlets in third paragraph.)
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