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HírTV back in the government fold

August 3rd, 2018

Left-wing commentators see the takeover of Hungary’s first TV news channel as a sign of mounting authoritarianism, while pro-government newspapers declare that justice has been done.

The day after the new ownership of HírTV was approved by the anti-trust authority, a new management has been named and several leading programmes have been abolished. Nine journalists resigned and some have already been replaced by pro-government colleagues. The ‘crown jewel’ of Lajos Simicska’s media empire was founded in 2002, after the first Fidesz government was voted out of office. It was staunchly pro-Fidesz until 2015 when the ultimate owner, former Fidesz treasurer Lajos Simicska became a bitter foe of PM Orbán. After the third consecutive sweeping electoral victory of Fidesz in April this year, Simicska closed down some of his outlets, then sold the remaining cluster to a former associate, Zsolt Nyerges, who disagreed with his anti-Orbán campaign.

On Mérce, Gáspár Miklós Tamás describes the HírTV takeover as part of a semi-feudal system under construction by those in power. He believes Mr Simicska was not one to capitulate easily, therefore the Marxist philosopher sees his surrender as the result of a show of force. Simicska’s media empire was set up to serve Fidesz and ‘order has been restored’ as it was made clear that no defections are tolerated.

Népszava’s Róbert Friss recalls that HírTV journalists switched sides from one day to another when Simicska turned against the government and writes that Népszava doesn’t appreciate abrupt political volte-faces. Nevertheless, the left-wing daily sympathizes with journalists who lose their jobs, Friss concludes.

In Magyar Idők, Gábor Baranyai writes that HírTV has been ‘re-occupied by the right wing from its usurpers’. He adds that HírTV’s number one star, Olga Kálmán has had a low audience with ratings sometimes three times lower than those of her competitor on ATV. He describes the history of HírTV over the past three years as ‘a reflection of how Mr Simicska ran amok’ after he turned against the government in 2015.

Origo’s László Gábor suggests that HírTV now has a chance to become a high standard broadcaster. In fact, he argues, it used to be ‘one of Europe’s best news TV stations before February 2015’.

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