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Népszabadság: Austrian Owner, Editor-In-Chief Clash Over Reasons Behind Shutdown Of Left-Wing Newspaper

Tamás Székely 2016.10.18.

The decision to suspend publication of Hungarian daily Népszabadság was taken solely for business reasons, the head of Vienna Capital Partners, which owns the broadsheet’s publisher, said in an interview published in Austrian weekly Profil. “Népszabadság has only made losses for more than ten years. Circulation numbers have dropped drastically because interest in the product gradually declined,” Heinrich Pecina (pictured left) told Profil.

“Népszabadság accounts for about 10% of the revenue of its publisher Mediaworks, but the costs cut overall profit buy about 40%,” he added. Pecina said Hungarian managers at Mediaworks had handled the situation badly and underestimated the reaction. He dismissed speculation of a political motive for lagging advertising. “The situation with the ads was difficult but by no means so extreme,” he said. Profil said Pecina had been ready to “gift” the paper to its then co-owner, the Socialist Party, in 2015 but they had rejected his offer. “That the Socialist Party themselves didn’t have the courage to accept this suddenly-soimportant newspaper as a present says it all … Nobody wants this newspaper,” he added. Pecina told Profil that a number of potential buyers both close to the opposition and to the government had made offers for Mediaworks and that he was considering pulling out of the company.

The paper’s editor-in-chief said in a statement that before signs of the paper’s closure became apparent, the publisher had neither attempted to create the conditions for improving its financial operations nor to work out a plan for its revamp. András Murányi (pictured right) said that Népszabadság had been Hungary’s largest circulation daily and the country’s newspaper of record. He added that in the past few years the paper had suffered the smallest print run decline. On the subject of the paper’s financial losses, he said that its previous owner, Ringier, had used Népszabadság’s reserves of 2.4 billion forints (EUR 7.8m) to spend on its print and distribution acquisitions up to 2004.

Murányi added that advertising revenues were a large factor in racked-up losses “barely of around one million euros”. The owner and management could have come to a responsible decision had they communicated with the paper’s leadership concerning how future operations should be conceived and how much time would be needed to work out a new operating plan. This did not happen, András Murányi said. In talks on the paper’s finances, the editorship offered to give up a large portion of its October allowances to ensure a continued presence on the market while opening the opportunity to work out the basis of a new form of operations. There was no response to this offer, he added.

Meanwhile the Hungarian opposition parties continue to protest – as they say – “against government corruption and in support of press freedom in Hungary”. Following last Sunday’s demonstration a joint anti-government gathering will be held by the left-wing Socialist Party (MSZP), Democratic Coalition (DK) and Dialogue for Hungary party (PM) at the Astoria on 23rd of October, on the national holiday to be held this year to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the 1956 revolution. At the same time opposition Együtt (Together) party has called for the Hungarians to attend the central ceremony in order to boo Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

While Hungarian commentators have remained divided over the closure of Népszabadság, a fresh survey shows majority of the Hungarians believe that press freedom is rather limited in the country.

via hungarymatters.hu and MTI