Tuesday

21st Feb 2017

Hungarian journalists to sue publisher

In the latest twist of the fate of Hungary's largest daily newspaper, which was suspended on Saturday, the acting CEO of the publisher resigned on Monday (10 October), only two days after being appointed.

Mediaworks, which is owned by an Austrian investor, Vienna Capital Partners (VCP), put out a statement on Monday evening that Viktor Katona had resigned because of health issues.

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The move came as Nepszabadsag's journalists revealed documents that suggest Mediaworks used the name Nepszabadsag and other names associated with the brand as collateral to get a loan from MKB Bank in August.

In practice, it means the sale of the newspaper cannot be completed without the consent of the bank, and makes it impossible for journalists to restart the paper under the same name, or a similarly sounding name.

MKB Bank came under the control of Hungary's central bank in December 2014.

The state-owned bank was later sold to a consortium of investors in March, but the actual owners remain unknown.

Local media reported that one of the owners could have ties to the business circles close to the Hungarian government.

Nepszabadsag's journalists said in a Facebook post that they were going to "take legal action against the publisher due to ongoing legal violations".

Mediaworks said in a statement on Monday that "the company is committed to open and sincere talks" with the journalists.

But talks have so far failed.

The staff offered to buy the newspaper for €1 on Monday. Mediaworks said in an earlier statement that the newspaper had built up losses of €16.4 million due to fall in circulation since 2007.

Nepszabadsag journalists attempted to enter their offices on Monday to take their personal belongings, but the doors remained locked. They are now operating from a co-working space in Budapest.

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The EU should continue to put pressure on Hungary over media restrictions after recent legal amendments did not go far enough, says human rights campaigner Amanda McRae.

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