08 Oct 2017

A year after the closing of Népszabadság newspaper

The Hungarian government has made great headway in getting the independent media under control.

Ivett Körösi
Ivett Körösi Nepszava, Hungary
Source: Nepszava
A year after the closing of Népszabadság newspaper - NewsMavens
In 2016, Demonstrators lit candles in memory of Népszabadság. Szilas/Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)

Why this story matters:

It has been exactly a year since Hungary’s leading opposition newspaper was shut down. On Oct. 8, 2016, overnight and without prior notice, became history. Népszabadság used to publish stories about the lavish lifestyles of top officials and mismanagement in the government. It directly hit high-profile members of the ruling elite. The owner claimed he was forced to do shut down the liberal daily because it wasn't profitable. The real motives behind the closure of Népszabadság became clear when the owner sold the parent company, Mediaworks, to a businessman affiliated with Viktor Orban, the prime minister of Hungary.

The newspaper was silenced but the people of Hungary were not. Thousands demonstrated in front of parliament on Oct. 8 last year and many took to the streets in the following days. Several international media outlets, such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, Gazeta Wyborcza and more, issued statements and wrote editorials in solidarity with Népszabadság journalists and urged the Hungarian government to respect the freedom of the press.

But the right-wing government didn't listen. And now there are fewer independent publications in Hungary than a year ago. Newspapers and television and radio stations have been bought by oligarchs close to the ruling Fidesz party. And these media outlets -- which are neither independent nor objective -- are the main source of information for many Hungarians.

Details from the story:

The decline of Hungary's press freedom - a timeline

  • On Oct. 8, 2016, the former staff of Népszabadság organized a public event commemorating Hungary's biggest opposition newspaper being silenced and drawing attention to the state of freedom of the press
  • All ruling parties since Hungary's 1990 transition to democracy tried to control the media to some extent
  • Fidesz lost elections in 2002 and realized one of the reasons was because it did not have enough control of the media
  • After Fidesz's 2010 election win, a new media bill was passed imposing heavy fines and possible sanctions for "unbalanced coverage". It was fiercely criticised by Hungarian journalists and international watchdogs
  • Many Hungarian newspapers protested the bill by publishing blank front pages
  • Freedom of the press has been in gradual decline ever since
  • Not only does the government try to control most media outlets but it also tries to discourage journalists from doing their jobs. In May, a journalist from independent website 444.hu was kicked out of a public Fidesz party event at which economy minister Mihály Varga and defense minister István Simicskó were expected to speak. The 444.hu journalist also had her phone confiscated
  • The Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 2017 World Press Freedom Index ranked Hungary 71st out of 180 countries
  • On Oct. 8th, 2017, as Hungary marked a year since Népszabadság's death, it also honored those who do extraordinary reporting in a very hostile environment. Szabad Pecs (Free Pecs), a regional independent media outlet, was awarded by former Népszabadság staff
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