Index Vakbarát Hírportál

Sudden cataclysm in Hungarian media: Almost all pro-government outlets in one hand

2018. november 28., szerda 22:38 | aznap frissítve

Around noon today, news arrived of Lőrinc Mészáros reorganizing his media portfolio. But by late afternoon, nearly the complete propaganda empire linked to the ruling party Fidesz was placed under control of a single giant umbrella-organisation.

The significant part of the Hungarian media, more than 200 titles including most of the flagships of Fidesz's media empire are now the property of the Central European Press and Media Foundation. The unification of the media portfolios of various oligarchs linked to Fidesz happened suddenly, with media owners voluntarily offering their shares to the foundation - for free.

Such a huge acquisition is likely to draw attention to itself, as it could arguably be worrying in terms of competition law. The authority that could have a say in the matter is the National Competition Authority, which, if it considers necessary, can ask for the preliminary decision of Hungary's Media Council, and their preliminary decision obliges the Competition Authority. It is important to note that all four members of the Media Council were nominated by Fidesz.

At the helm of the new holding is Gábor Liszkay, a media expert who participated in building press friendly to Fidesz even during the party's pre-2010 years in opposition, working closely together with Lajos Simicska, the former financial mastermind behind Fidesz. He had led the now-defunct right-wing daily newspaper Magyar Nemzet for 15 years.

Liszkay has undergone his baptism by fire in 2015, when he quit Magyar Nemzet and stayed by the side of Viktor Orbán during Simicska's rather spectacular falling-out with the Prime Minister in early February 2015, commonly referred to as G-day, named after the initial of the curse word Simicska repeatedly used to describe Orbán in the numerous rage-fueled interviews he gave during his tirade. Recently Liszkay was the head of the Mészáros-owned Mediaworks and participated in the takeover and realignment of HírTV.

Today's events could possibly be explained by what Index reported earlier - the fragmented structure of the pro-government media was a significant headache for Viktor Orbán, and rationalisation of the portfolio was necessary, as most of these outlets were financed by state advertisement. Media companies linked to Fidesz were the recipients of as much as 66% of state spending on advertisement according to the latest (June 2018) data from the investigative news site, Átlátszó. And by the way, that does not include the 14% share of the public media.

But what happened exactly?

Lőrinc Mészáros's media holding company Mediaworks first acquired the publisher of pro-government Magyar Idők, similarly aligned radio Karc FM, the publishers of the six remaining county-wide newspapers not yet in his property, including Lapcom that also publishes the print and online iterations of Bors, one of the top tabloids of Hungary, and an agricultural publishing company with the weekly newspaper Szabad Föld that also has significant circulation.

By noon today, 18 out of the top 20 daily newspapers of Hungary were owned by Lőrinc Mészáros, childhood friend of Viktor Orbán, former mayor of Felcsút (the Prime Minister's hometown that is close to his heart to this day) who used to be a pipe-fitter, but soon became the fifth richest person in Hungary after Fidesz's rise to power in 2010.

After all that, Mediaworks merged into Talentis Zrt and so did Printimus, the sales house responsible for selling the ad spaces of Lapcom and Mediaworks publications.

Lőrinc Mészáros then went on to donate 100% of Talentis Zrt's shares to the Central European Press and Media Foundation. According to the company's press release:

The aim of the donor is to ensure the long-term protection of national values and traditions, to further strengthen the opinion-shaping role of the conservative written and electronic media, and to support informing local communities as extensively as possible.

Later in the afternoon, the foundation announced agreements about the donation of ten more media companies. Amongst others, the media outlets acquired this way include:

Since then, three more companies gave notice of their intent to join the foundation, including: