Orbán blamed for paper shutdown
Prime Minister Viktor Orbán appears to be stiffling voices of dissent. Source: Wikimedia
Hungary’s largest broadsheet newspaper, Népszabadság, has stopped publication, with its staff and the opposition alleging government pressure.
About 2,000 demonstrators gathered outside the parliament in Budapest to protest about the fall of the opposition publication. Népszabadság is a leading centre-left independent paper daily which tends to support the centre-left political opposition.
Journalists said it was a “coup” and were stopped from entering the building on Saturday.
After talks with the management, editor-in-chief Andras Muranyi said the move was political, rather than financial. “I’ve come to the conclusion that this wasn’t a financial decision, but a different type of decision. The only thing that we can negotiate now with the owner and the management after this is the selling of Népszabadság.”
However, the owners appear to have said it was a business decision following declining sales.
“Népszabadság has lost 74 per cent of its sold circulation in the past 10 years, corresponding to more than 100,000 copies,” the firm allegedly announced. The suspension of publication would enable it to “focus on finding the best business model for the paper, in line with the current trends in the industry, and will start consultations in order to best secure future development”, it supposedly said.
Népszabadság has often criticised right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and opposed last weekend’s referendum on refugees.
Mediaworks, which gained total control of Népszabadság in 2015 after buying out the Socialist Party’s 27.7-per-cent stake, said the decision had been driven by plummeting sales and heavy losses over the past decade.
Orbán’s Fidesz party has described the closure as a “reasonable business decision”, but staff say it because the paper disclosed corruption allegations against a Fidesz minister and a scandal involving the governor of the national bank in recent days.
Orbán’s government has often been accused of using the state-controlled media as a mouthpiece.
Other independent media outlets had also been bought by the prime minister’s allies, critics say.
Népszabadság’s website has also gone down.
“We are in shock. Of course they will try and paint this as a business decision but it’s not the truth,” an anonymous journalist told AFP.
That the development comes days after the paper broke several major stories has reinforced the sense of state interference.
The opposition said the move showed Orbán was moving to suppress press freedoms and to gain full control of the media. The Socialist Party added that it was a “black day for the press”.