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Népszabadság shuts down

October 10th, 2016

On Saturday, the management of Népszabadság suspended all operations of Hungary’s leading left-wing daily. A left-wing columnist accuses the government of  being behind the owners’ decision, while pro-government commentators accept their explanation that they wanted to cut losses.

On Saturday, the management of Népszabadság shut down without prior notice the website of the leading left-wing daily and informed its employees that the daily’s operations have been suspended until a new business model is worked out. Népszabadság was first sold to German publishers in the 1990s, but a Socialist foundation kept a right of veto until last year, after the newspaper was taken over by Mediaworks, an Austrian media company. In separate announcements, the opposition parties, including the radical right-wing Jobbik, accused the government of pressuring Népszabadság’s owner to shut down the daily. Népszava and 444.hu alleged that the Hungarian portfolio of the Mediaworks is to be purchased by pro-government media moguls, who want to get rid of Népszabadság before this year’s takeover of a new portfolio including several regional dailies. Fidesz in a press release denied that it interfered with Népszabadság, and noted that any government involvement in the management’s affairs would be a violation of free press norms. On Saturday, the editors of the daily and the MSZP organized a demonstration to stand up for press freedom.

On Index, Gergely Dudás angrily accuses the government of declaring war on press freedom, while at the same time he admits that it is not clear why Népszabadság was shut down. Dudás nonetheless thinks that the management’s argument concerning losses is groundless, claiming that the shutting down of Népszabadság’s online edition cannot explained by financial rationality. Dudás suspects that the management of the daily wants to stop the publication of the left-wing daily rather than find ways to turn Népszabadság into a profitable media outlet. Dudás speculates that the management’s move must have been the result of political pressure by the government on the owners. Dudás mentions Népszabadság’s recent reports on government corruption (see BudaPost October 8) as possible triggers for the unforeseen shut down. In conclusion, he goes so far as to liken the case of Népszabadság to Turkish President Erdogan’s assault on media freedom.

In 888.hu, Attila Viktor Vincze and Gellért Oláh look back at the history of Népszabadság and recall that before 1990, the left-wing daily was the official newspaper of the Communist Party. It was then taken over by the MSZP as an owner. Thus, Népszabadság cannot be considered an unbiased and objective media outlet, but rather as a mouthpiece of the Socialists. The decline of Népszabadság since 2000 reflects the general decline of the Socialist Party, Vincze and Oláh conclude.


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