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19th Oct 2019

Hungary's main opposition media shuts down after election

Hungary's main opposition daily newspaper Magyar Nemzet will shut down on Wednesday (11 April), the publisher announced on Tuesday following prime minister Viktor Orban's landslide victory on Sunday.

The publisher cited financial reasons, and said the online version and a sister radio, Lanchid, will cease their operations as well.

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The 80-year old Magyar Nemzet (Hungarian Nation) has been the largest print daily that retained an opposition voice in a media landscape dominated by state or government-aligned outlets, and an advertising market controlled by the government.

Magyar Nemzet is owned by Lajos Simicska, an oligarch and a former key ally of Orban, turned staunch opponent after falling out in 2015.

Simicska's media empire, which also includes broadcaster HirTV, has suffered heavy losses as the publications were deprived of state advertising.

Mertek Institute media analyst Gabor Polyak said it was only a matter of time before Simicska shut down his unprofitable media organisations after the elections.

Polyak pointed out however that the Hungarian advertising market is not working properly due to the overwhelming government influence.

"State advertisements are tools of exerting political pressure. If a company advertises in Magyar Nemzet for instance, that is considered by the government as taking a political stand, so that company risks being singled out by the state for inspection and other forms of harassment," Polyak told EUobserver, adding that Hungarian independent media is struggling to find advertisements.

"State advertisement designates where is it allowed and not allowed to have advertisement," he added.

At the same time, Simicska is also running out of money.

Once one of the main beneficiaries of contracts stemming from EU cohesion funds, Simicska has been losing out heavily on public tenders since he broke with his childhood friend, Orban.

He has vowed to bring down Orban, and many expected an "atomic bomb" from him, incriminating information on the prime minister or top politicians from Orban's Fidesz party that could change the widely expected outcome the elections. That never materialised due to Simicska's suspected own involvement in corruption.

Magyar Nemzet has recently revealed several corruption stories that shed light on the high-level graft within top Fidesz circles. Before turning against Orban, Magyar Nemzet was considered a pro-government newspaper loyal to Fidesz.

"Magyar Nemzet has become an important hub for journalism recently, they have become important in uncovering corruptions stories," Polyak said, adding that the situation of Hungary's journalists was tragic.

Since Orban had lost support of Simicska's media empire, the prime minister's top aides built another Fidesz-friendly media empire by buying stakes in media and advertising businesses, and the government also turned the state media into the government's mouthpiece.

In 2016 businessmen close to Orban purchased then shut down Nepszabadsag, the country's top opposition newspaper. The premier's top circles also bought nearly all regional dailies.

The remaining independent publications with widespread reach are the news website Index.hu, owned by Simicska associates, and the RTL television group owned by Germany's Bertelsmann.

Orban, who held a press conference on Tuesday did not comment in detail about the closure of Magyar Nemzet.

"The government and me personally are not involved in business affairs. These are privately owned publications, their owners will decide their fate," he said.

After Fidesz secured a sweeping two-thirds majority in parliament on Sunday's general election, the expectation is high that the media, the courts and NGOs will be put further under political pressure.

Fidesz has already announced that it will introduce the Stop Soros legislation packagewhich targets NGOs dealing with migration.

Analysis

Orban, the 'anti-Merkel', emboldens European right

Hungary's premier Viktor Orban has inspired 'illiberalism' across central Europe and far-right politicians in the West. His expected re-election this Sunday will further reinforce his standing as a symbol for being tough on Europe's political mainstream.

Commission takes Orban's Hungary to court

The EU executive steps up several probes over Hungary's illiberal tendencies, while it is also suing Poland and the Czech Republic over migrant quotas.

Draft EU report calls for sanctions on Hungary

A draft report by the civil liberties committe says Hungary is at risk of breaching EU values. Orban's government claims this is an attack on his electoral victory.

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