“Independent media should prepare for worst-case scenario”

The former deputy editor-in-chief of the recently closed Magyar Nemzet, Zsombor Gyorgy painted a dark picture of the media’s situation under the next Fidesz government, in an interview with the International Press Institute (IPI).

After the third landslide election of Viktor Orban’s Fidesz-KDNP Alliance, “it was an open secret that Lajos Simicska, one of the country’s richest oligarchs and owner of several media outlets, would quickly dispense of his media empire. On Tuesday, it all became public. Journalists at Magyar Nemzet, the last political daily with no formal or informal financial ties to the government, were informed that the 80-year-old newspaper would go to press for the last time on Wednesday, April 11. Lanchid Radio, a radio station also owned by Simicska, stopped broadcasting on the same day at midnight”, the article reminds.

“I was as surprised by the sudden and radical downsizing as most Hungarians were by Orban’s two-thirds majority”, Gyorgy said, adding that he was expecting “a much slower process that wouldn’t end in total capitulation”.

“Before 2015, Magyar Nemzet toed the Fidesz party line, but in the past three years it had been, by Hungarian standards, a fairly independent and hard-hitting political daily”, IPI recalls, referring to a conflict between former Fidesz cassier Simicska and Orban in 2015. Gyorgy told IPI that the paper had never been freer than during this period.

“We’ve been accused of supporting Jobbik (the formerly openly racist, far-right party that has moved towards the center of the political spectrum and was widely seen as Simicska’s closest ally before finishing a distant second in the election), but this was not true at all”, he said. “The fact of the matter is that they are simply by far the largest of the parties that have never been in powr and therefore can’t really be blamed for Hungary’s ills,”

IPI quotes Gyorgy.

He’s not too optimistic about the daily’s future, despite the rumours that Hungarian billionaries would buy it. “Everybody is too afraid of crossing Orbán. And time is running out. I’m perfectly aware of the fact that in one or two weeks time my colleagues will start to look for new jobs,” he explained.

“Media watchers before the elections predicted that a Fidesz victory would spell trouble for the still-functioning independent media in Hungary. The reinforced two-third majority is obviously an even bigger threat,” IPI writes. According to Gyorgy, “everybody working at those outlets should prepare for the absolute worst-case scenario.”

“Media freedom under threat”

Hungary is the 73. on the latest Press Freedom Index by the Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The country was on the 71. place last year. According to the organisation, “two media bubbles co-exist in Hungary. One, created by pro-government and pro-Fidesz media outlets, is obsessed with migration, the ‘defence of Hungary and its borders’ and its hate campaign against the Hungarian-American billionaire philanthropist George Soros. The other is focused on finding corruption scandals”. 

Hungary Journal

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