Thursday

24th Jan 2019

EU hesitant on Hungary newspaper closure

The EU can do little to safeguard media pluralism in member states, even as Hungary's largest newspaper remains shut down for a second day.

Hungary's largest daily newspaper, Nepszabadsag, unexpectedly halted its print and online editions on Saturday (8 October).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

Its owner, Mediaworks, cited economic losses as reason for the move, but journalists, civil rights groups and opposition parties suspect interference by prime minister Viktor Orban's government, whose Fidesz party had been the target of Nepszabadsag investigations.

The European Commission said on Monday (10 October) it was "concerned about the suspension” and that it was “following the issue closely”.

But a spokesperson said that even if it found foul play, there was little it could do.

"Our role has to be within our competencies," the spokesperson said, highlighting that the EU had no legislation on print media.

"It is mainly up for member states to protect media freedom and pluralism within their country," the spokesperson said.

According to one commission source familiar with the issue, the EU executive is trying to establish what happened at Nepszabadsag.

However, the source said, there was little chance for action without political will from the European Commission, especially from Gunther Oettinger, the German commissioner responsible for media.

First reactions from the European Parliament also sounded hesitant.

The Socialist group put out a strong statement on Saturday condemning the closure of Nepszabadsag, while liberal leader Guy Verhofstadt tweeted: "With its current policies, Hungary would not have been allowed to join EU in 2004. This has to stop."

A source close to the Socialist group told this website that they would "surely do something" about Nepszabadsag, but did not know which method to use.

Another Socialist source said: “It would surprising if anything concrete would come up."

The source said that several previous EP resolutions on rule of law and media pluralism have not prompted any changes in the policies of the Hungarian government, but have in fact boosted Orban's popularity.

Sources from the centre-right EPP group said the suspension of Nepszabadsag publication was clearly an economic issue and had nothing to do with Orban.

They also rebuked the idea that the EPP should re-examine Orban's membership in the group.

But Pedro Lopez de Pablo, a spokesperson of the group, told this website, "it is regrettable" that Nepszabadsag closed, "no matter if they were against or for Orban".

"One newspaper less means one less opportunity for freedom of speech," he said.

Work still stalled

Nepszabadsag journalists attempted for a second time to access their offices on Monday, but in vain.

The management of Mediaworks postponed the agreed negotiations with the paper's editor-in-chief citing illnesses.

Nepszabadsag journalists continued work, posting some stories on Facebook, and symbolically offering to buy the brand for €1.

Hungary steps up campaign on migration referendum

Hungary's government has unveiled six billboards linking the migration crisis to terrorism and crime in an effort to win backing for its referendum on the EU's migration policy.

Hungarian journalists to sue publisher

Reporters at Hungary's largest daily newspaper plan legal action against the publisher for halting its publication, amid rumours of political interference.

European states still top media freedom list

Nordic countries Norway, Sweden and Finland still have the world's most free media, according to Reporters Without Borders, but the overall situation is declining.

Analysis

Hungary’s media deconstructed into Orban’s echo chamber

Despite the EU's protests, the Hungarian government has managed to turn the country's media into a propaganda machine. Now the theme that dominates the airways, cables and billboards is: Soros using the EU to transport migrants.

News in Brief

  1. Greek parliament to vote on Macedonia name deal
  2. Media cut ties to reporter who plagiarised EU stories
  3. Cyprus to host southern EU summit next week
  4. 'Yellow Vest' protesters to run list in EU elections
  5. Barnier: No-deal preparations 'more important than ever'
  6. Commission offers no-deal Brexit help to EU fisheries
  7. OECD: France and Belgium top social spending
  8. Study: Tax evasion cost five time as much as EU budget

Opinion

EU parliament vote strengthens whistleblower protection

We must not undervalue what a massive step the European Parliament vote represents. The hard work has paid off. We can take a moment to celebrate, but the hard work begins again for finalising strong protection for European whistleblowers.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General

Latest News

  1. EU: Italy's choice to end or continue Operation Sophia
  2. European Space Force should only be for defence, says MEP
  3. The demise of the INF treaty: can the EU save arms control?
  4. Stymied on 'golden passports', EU sets up expert group
  5. Tajani wants second term as EU parliament president
  6. EU commissioner floats idea for European space force
  7. France and Germany hope to revive EU with Aachen treaty
  8. May pushes defeated Brexit deal, offers no Plan B

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us