Political considerations cause the fall of opposition newspaper

The sudden shutdown of opposition newspaper Nepszabadsag was allegedly motivated by business reasons, while the general public is convinced that the right wing government made arrangements to silence the outlet that continued to report embarrassing stories. The figures show that the official line is bogus, the Austrian owner of the paper may well have also been motivated to kill the paper to hinder a criminal investigation in his home country.

Hungary got quite a shock when apparently out of the blue, publishing company MediaWorks announced the suspension of its Nepszabadsag newspaper citing a repositioning drive in light of the extensive losses the prestigious left-wing outlet amassed during the past years. The journalists were relieved from their jobs.

The widespread opinion was that the shutdown of the left’s paper is a direct crackdown from the right-wing Fidesz government, which is all too intent on silencing any opposition voices. This can be seen as the motivation in its oligarchs gradually taking ownership of many and various types of media outlets, and MediaWorks is also rumored to be in the final stages of being sold to business interests loyal to Fidesz.

Nepszabadsag became even more of an annoyance recently when it broke a couple of stories that were very embarrassing for prominents in the government camp.

Besides the very clear political narrative behind the shutdown, the figures also don’t support the claims that the paper was terminated out of purely business considerations. Nepszabadsag, as is often the case with political print media, has been loss-making for many years. This, however, didn’t bother the publisher so far, since it could operate profitably thanks to its other publications, while the Nepszabadsag brand is in itself a valuable asset.

MediaWorks is owned by Vienna Capital Partners, a company owned by Austrian businessman Heinrich Pecina. His motives for shutting down his paper, could be manyfold. Since it is taken for granted that MediaWorks will soon be bought by the government oligarchy, this favor could give him better negotiating positions in determining the price. Also, Austrian authorities are currently investigating him in an embezzlement case. There is a good chance that Hungarian authorities won’t rush to help their Austrian counterparts should they request assistance in the case after Pecina scores good points with the government.

As we see it, the radical steps against Nepszabadsag are also a means to send a strong, intimidating message. The government’s referendum drive against the European Union’s migrant quota failed because of lack of turnout. It was necessary at this point to reaffirm their position and to show that they still have the tools to crush anyone, despite this loss of political face.

Nonetheless, looking back at the past years, it was not only the current political power that is to blame for Nepszabadsag’s plight. Its previous owners, including the socialist MSZP made bad decisions and often opted to favor their own personal interests rather than that of the paper. Over the years, various multinational publishing firms like Ringier were keen on upholding freedom of the press in their respective home countries, but were more than happy to get in bed with the oligarchy in Hungary. The profession itself is also not without blame for failing to show the necessary solidarity when political pressure mounted on a journalist.

Original article in Hungarian

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