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“End Of Press Freedom” Or “Business As Usual”? – Hungarian Media Reactions To Népszabadság’s Controversial Closure

Tamás Székely 2016.10.11.

As we have already reported, last Saturday the management of Népszabadság suspended all operations of Hungary’s leading left-wing daily. The triggered harsh reactions and frustration in Hungarian media in the recent days. While most of the left-wing columnist angrily accuses the Hungarian government of  being behind the owners’ decision, pro-government commentators tend to accept the owners’ explanation that they wanted to cut losses. Hungarian press round-up by budapost.eu:

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On liberal news portal index.hu, Gergely Dudás angrily accuses the government of declaring war on press freedom, while at the same time he admits that it is not clear why Népszabadság was shut down. Dudás nonetheless thinks that the management’s argument concerning losses is groundless, claiming that the shutting down of Népszabadság’s online edition cannot explained by financial rationality. Dudás suspects that the management of the daily wants to stop the publication of the left-wing daily rather than find ways to turn Népszabadság into a profitable media outlet. Dudás speculates that the management’s move must have been the result of political pressure by the government on the owners. Dudás mentions Népszabadság’s recent reports on government corruption  as possible triggers for the unforeseen shut down. In conclusion, he goes so far as to liken the case of Népszabadság to Turkish President Erdogan’s assault on media freedom.

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In right-wing news site 888.hu, Attila Viktor Vincze and Gellért Oláh look back at the history of Népszabadság and recall that before 1990, the left-wing daily was the official newspaper of the Communist Party. It was then taken over by the MSZP as an owner. Thus, Népszabadság cannot be considered an unbiased and objective media outlet, but rather as a mouthpiece of the Socialists. The decline of Népszabadság since 2000 reflects the general decline of the Socialist Party, Vincze and Oláh conclude.

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On left-wing HVG online, András Hont recalls that Népszabadság was sold to Mediaworks, the company that shut it down on Saturday, because the  antitrust authority blocked the merger of its owner (Swiss based Ringier) with a German based media multinational (Springer) which owned a large portfolio of regional newspapers. Now Mediaworks has acquired a similar regional portfolio and the authorities did not object.Meanwhile the Socialist Party, through its foundation, used to own a right of veto in Népszabadság but gave it up because Socialist officials thought they would win the next elections and therefore would be in a position to call the shots. ‘They don’t care for independent reporting either’, Hont fumes. He adds that the owner’s side was represented at the talks by none other than former German Social Democratic Party leader and Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. ‘So much for the international left, Hont concludes.Finally he calls it grotesque that the shutdown of the former Communist Party daily should be considered a ‘dark milestone’ on the road leading to the full atrophy of the free press in Hungary.

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On his weblog, popular political analyst Gábor Török castigates those who interpret the end of Népszabadság as the end of press freedom in Hungary. He reminds them that such complaints have been heard throughout the past six years. He agrees with those critics who have no doubts about the political motives behind what happened, but finds it absurd to liken it to the situation in countries where journalists are imprisoned or even killed. Likewise, he deems unfounded those complaints that accuse the ruling forces of re-introducing Communist habits. Before 1990, he recalls, independent thought could only be expressed in clandestine publications, whereas in our days people are free to publish their ideas on the internet and in print. In a dictatorship there is precious little to be done if you are dissatisfied. In a democracy, people can vote the governing forces out out of office. Török concludes: “If they want to.”

via budapost.eu