Blinkered in Budapest: government-friendly media gang up to control markets

A commentary by Pal Daniel Reyni 

It only took a few hours to create the biggest ever media conglomerate in the history of free Hungarian media. On 28th November 2018, most media owners who support the Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz party simultaneously gifted (!) all their assets to a newly-formed foundation, led by Gábor Liszkay.


Blinkered in Budapest – government friendly media gang up to control media markets Photo: Pixabay

He is the CEO of a pro-goverment media company and a longtime ally of Orbán. The Board of Trustees has three more members, of which one is a former (István Varga) and another is a current Fidesz MP (István Bajkai). Bajkai is a former lawyer of the Orbán family. 

Atlatszo, an independent news website, calculated the new body –called the Central European Press and Media Foundation - consists of at least 476 media outlets. It owns all the major regional daily newspapers, numerous radio channels, news websites and tabloid papers, two news TV channels and the only daily freesheet, besides many more. Previously these media outlets were owned by different oligarchs and business people from the Prime Minister's circle of associates.. 

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán declared that the creation of the foundation is of "public interest" and  there is therefore no need for the Hungarian Competition Authority to examine any potential excessive market influence. In this way he sends a clear message: that he will always be ready to rewrite the rule of law, if it is in his government's interest. 

The new conglomerate will help the government to maintain the strict control of propaganda content throughout the pro-Orbán media landscape, but not only that. Most propaganda outlets have struggled to create profit for a long time and have been subsidised by government advertising and public information campaigns and advertising from state-owned companies. With no owners and no private interests involved, financing these media will be way easier for the government. 

However, it won't change a thing for tax-payers: they'll keep paying the bills for propaganda. Several media outlets - such as the biggest news website Origo - that are now part of the conglomerate have previously been acquired through loans provided by state-owned banks. 

The government created a new ministry under communication secretary Antal Rogán, just to fully control state companies and ministry’s advertisement spendings, and to keep financing these outlets. The new structure will not only make it easier to channel  resources. It will also help them to spread the the political messages and buzzwords, that are being experimentally tested by Antal Rogàn.

The author is a Hungarian political journalist. The views expressed here are his own. 



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