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Népszabadság Saga: Left-Wing Parties Hold “Press Freedom” Demonstration In Budapest

Tamás Székely 2016.10.17.

The opposition LMP, Együtt, and Dialogue for Hungary parties held a joint demonstration on Sunday to protest against PM Viktor Orbán’s right-wing government in the wake of the recent closure of the biggest Hungarian left-wing daily Népszabadság. Participants of the few-thousand strong demonstration said they gathered against corruption and in support of press freedom.

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Benedek Jávor, Ákos Hadházy and Miklós Hargitai speaking to the protesters

Benedek Jávor, MEP of Dialogue for Hungary (PM), said the government wanted to silence civil organisations and Hungary’s independent media, and claimed that it was building a “virtual reality” of its own built on lies. Referring to articles written about sleaze, he singled out the public prosecutor, the national election commission and the constitutional court, saying: “Corruption in Hungary is not a regrettable by-product of government but of the system” of Hungary’s institutions.

Green party LMP co-leader Ákos Hadházy said corruption was “society’s cancer” and warned that “the patient is close to death”. Legislation needs to be enacted to guarantee the transparency and accountability of politicians, he added. Péter Juhász, Együtt (Together)’s deputy leader, said Viktor Orbán had entered into a spiral of lies and would have to face reality. He called on opposition supporters to go out in force to events in which the prime minister takes part and boo him.

Miklós Hargitai, a journalist with the now-defunct Népszabadság newspaper, told protesters that the loss-making paper’s owner had failed to give an explanation for its closure and had not informed the managing director of the impending decision. He noted the paper had written about cases of corruption, and he insisted that governing politicians had not tolerated this. He added that Prime Minister Viktor Orbán had not given an interview to Népszabadság, the biggest circulation daily, in a decade. The paper’s closure, he insisted, had been an act of “political revenge”.

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Protesters frustrated over Népszabadság’s closure – Péter Juhász delivering his speech

Before the protest Gergely Gulyás, the ruling Fidesz party’s deputy leader, told a news conference that based on available information, the decision to suspend the paper had been motivated by business considerations, and the owners had made it clear that the paper had lost several billion forints. “In this respect, the government has nothing to do with the matter.” Compared with numerous western European countries, Hungary has far greater press diversity and a broader mass media, he insisted. “In a modern democracy the greatest threat to press freedom came not from laws or the pressure of government but from media owners”, Gulyás said.

After the demonstration ruling Fidesz party said in a statement that contrary to the assertions of the opposition, the closure of Népszabadság had been a question of its market and financial fitness. The current and former leaders of the opposition Socialist Party “stole the future” of the paper. “Not only were they incompetent to govern the country, but they could not even take care of their own party’s paper,” the statement said. Fidesz said that during the Socialist governing period, Népszabadság had been left to make a loss, and in 2015 they gave up on the paper and sold it. The new owner made an offer to the Socialist Party for its share in the business, but the opposition party had not been forced to sell, the statement added.

Radical nationalist Jobbik said in a statement that while Fidesz talked about market forces, its media had “absorbed billions of taxpayers’ forints” in return for “milling out dumb government propaganda” and for publishing government ads, rather than sustaining itself on revenues from commercials by private customers.

via hungarymatters.hu and MTI photos: Balázs Mohai – MTI