The government office of Budapest has declared a decree of the Budapest municipality which demanded space in certain free newspapers in exchange for use of the city’s public spaces unlawful, daily Magyar Nemzet reported.
According to the decree, the Budapest local government would dispose of the content of “at least four pages” in newspapers distributed free of charge in public spaces in Budapest.
The content of those pages would have been decided exclusively by the municipality, as long as it is “of public interest.”
The decree would have mainly affected the re-launched local pro-government newspaper Metropol.
Following the government office’s decision, Mediaworks Hungary, the owner of the Metropol newspaper, submitted a statement to the municipality that they would not comply with the regulation and continued to seek a public space permit for the placement of magazine racks because in their view, hand-to-hand distribution is not subject to permit.
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The popular Metropol newspaper first published in 1998, has a long history. The media outlet was acquired in 2011 by Lajos Simicska, one of the most important businessmen closely tied to Fidesz at the time. After his conflict with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in 2015, however, the paper lost its main source of revenue- most of the state advertisements, and the Budapest Transit Company did not renew its contract with the news outlet either. As a result, it had to stop publishing in 2016, while a new, free, and notoriously pro-government newspaper Lokál took its place in the subways of Budapest.
The owners of the company that published Lokál were also businessmen closely tied to Fidesz, which in November 2018 merged into the new pro-government media firm, Central European Press and Media Foundation (KESMA). (Mediaworks is the leading company in KESMA).
In 2019, shortly after his election, Budapest opposition Mayor Gergely Karácsony said that he considered Lokál, which was especially hostile towards him in the local election campaign, to be a fake news publication. Lokál had lost plenty of libel suits by then. Not long after, Budapest terminated the distribution contract with the paper.
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Last spring, news site Válasz Online revealed that based on anonymous sources, the relaunch of Metropol is on the way. According to the portal, many people at Mediaworks found Lokál to be a newspaper of poor quality and thought Metropol to be a much stronger brand.
In the featured photo illustration: Budapest mayor Gergely Karácsony. Photo by Márton Mónus/MTI