The Hungarian media scene is still in flux

Although the Hungarian government’s only concern of late seems to be how to keep asylum seekers out of the country, I don’t want to succumb to the same tunnel vision. And so today I’m turning to the state of the Hungarian media.

So-called public (közszolgálati) television and radio are by now mere mouthpieces of government propaganda. Magyar Rádió is still, by default, the station that most people who are interested in more than pop music listen to. Magyar Televízió’s M1, a news channel, turned out to be a flop. On the other hand, a few days ago MTV began broadcasting a sports channel that is, not surprisingly, a hit since most Hungarian football games can be seen there and only there. Of course, the government’s media experts made certain that the canned news of MTV can also be heard on the sports channel. So one cannot escape the barrage of propaganda.

Back in May I wrote a post on the new media landscape, which included the purchase of Napi Gazdaság, a financial daily that imitated the look of The Financial Times. Former editors of Magyar Nemzet followed their editor-in-chief and began transforming Napi Gazdaság into a second Magyar Nemzet. As far as the contents are concerned the work has been pretty well completed, but the name of the newspaper doesn’t really fit, nor does its colored paper. A few days ago we learned that the new quasi-government paper will be called “Magyar Idők” (Hungarian Times), and soon enough it will be printed on normal newsprint.

The capital that was originally sunk into the paper was relatively modest, but subsequently János Sánta, the beneficiary of the latest redistribution of the wholesale sector of the tobacco state monopoly, purchased a 49% stake in the new paper. I wrote about the details of this redistribution, which benefited only Sánta’s Continental Tobacco Group and British American Tobacco, in a post titled “The Orbán government in action: Graft and fraud.” Clearly, Sánta was told that it was time to pay his benefactor, Viktor Orbán, for the fantastic business opportunity. The deal was most likely struck way before the government decision was announced.

Meanwhile Árpád Habony, Orbán’s mysterious adviser, and others are working on new projects. They want to come out with an online news site, but nothing has materialized yet. On the other hand, they put together Lokál, a free paper that is supposed to replace the very strongly pro-Fidesz Helyi Téma that went bankrupt a few months ago. According to Origo, this new paper seems to avoid political topics altogether and concentrates on the activities of Hungarian celebrities.

It has also been widely reported that Andy Vajna, formerly producer of the Rambo and Terminator movies, who was rumored to be interested in buying TV2, is now thinking of starting a cable television station of his own. There is no question in whose service Vajna’s station will be if it materializes. Andy Vajna, who left Hungary as a young boy in 1956, has made a spectacular career for himself in Hungary. His latest coup is that he will run five of Hungary’s eleven gambling casinos. His life in and out of Hungary certainly deserves a post or two.

Heti Válasz only last week published a very critical article about Andy Vajna's  financial affairs

Heti Válasz only last week published a very critical article about Andy Vajna’s financial affairs

These accomplishments are not, however, enough for Viktor Orbán. He wants to get rid of all of the media outlets still in the hands of Lajos Simicska and his business partner, Zsolt Nyerges: Magyar Nemzet, HírTV, Lánchíd Rádió, Heti Válasz, and Class FM, the only commercial radio station that can be heard everywhere in the country. An unlikely person has surfaced as a potential buyer of a couple of print and online publications: Mária Schmidt, the court historian and director of the House of Terror. Apparently, Schmidt is interested in buying Heti Válasz and perhaps Origo.

Mária Schmidt is a very rich woman. She inherited quite a fortune from her husband, who died unexpectedly in 2006. Népszabadság learned that she recently established a company called “Médiaháló” (Media Net) and is looking for newspapers to buy. She put out feelers to Magyar Telekom, which apparently has been wanting for some time to get rid of Origo. The other paper she is interested in is Heti Válasz. But Lajos Simicska, despite his recent troubles at the hands of Viktor Orbán’s government machine, is not ready to sell any of his media holdings. I don’t know how long Simicska will be able to maintain his unbending attitude because, as things stand now, Viktor Orbán has made sure that Simicska’s firm, Közgép, will not be able to bid for any government contracts in the next three years. Simicska is ready to fight the decision and, if necessary, go to the European Court of Justice, but that takes time. And who knows what other “misfortunes” will befall Simicska in the interim.

Whether Origo will land in Mária Schmidt’s lap is not at all certain because another newly established media firm, Brit Média Befektetési Zrt, already started negotiations with Telekom months ago. The company’s majority stake belongs to B’nai B’rith International, based in Brussels. András Jonatán Megyeri is a minority owner. Megyeri at one time worked for TV2 and Viasat, a high-speed internet company. He is a religious Jew who serves as the volunteer cantor of the Bét-Sálom Synagogue. A couple of weeks ago his new company invested 40 million forints in KlubRádió, which is still in dire financial straights. Mária Schmidt versus B’nai B’rith International, I’m curious whom Magyar Telekom will choose. I’m sure that opponents of Viktor Orbán are keeping fingers crossed for Brit Média.

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August 3, 2015 8:46 pm

Two sentences from Orwell. That seer of dreary and miserable dystopias. “Orthodoxy means not thinking–not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.”

I’d think if Fidesz continues to operate a one-sided show with the various mediums I’m afraid Hungarians will have to say goodbye to their critical faculties when it comes to objecting to those incessant media manipulations. Dangerous as Fidesz lulls them to sleep.

Let’s see if they can hold off Orban’s attempt in hauling in the Internet under his purview. With print and broadcast it looks like he’s got the tentacles flailing around there. But if the Internet gets caught in his net well that could arguably be a nail in the coffin for the country when it comes to the ‘free’ dissemination of ideas and opinion away from political arm wringing.

Really the digital world is a powerful medium for opinion-making and developing influential responses to political propaganda. From Orban’s perspective, the quicker the better in getting control over that very important medium.

August 4, 2015 1:29 am
Rikard is so right. And I wonder, if the government does actually take over internet news portals, what will those tens of thousands of young internet users, many of them university students who came out en masse after the proposed internet tax, be doing about it? The demonstration earlier this year was just about the only time Orbán made a u-trun, and it was because he saw that he was losing a large portion of potential followers. It was also the only time that a younger generation of Hungarians showed any interest in what Fidesz is up to, and was, thereby, a rare ray of hope for Hungary. Otherwise, it would seem that in Hungary, unlike most normal democracies, students are not concerned about civil liberties, the development of democratic principles, nor with current affairs in general, unless it affects them directly. I know from sources who work there, that at the Fine Art University in Andrássy út, 50% of the students are either Jobbik or support Fidesz and Orbán, while 50% just keep quiet and hope they can get their degrees and find a job. This, to me, is a shockingly shameful reflection of the mind-set of a nation.… Read more »
August 4, 2015 1:04 am

Re: Megyeri.

He is an office holder in the Lagymanyos Neolog synagogue, but he is also connected to Chabad, which has a cozy relationship with the Orban government in return !

There is a good chance that Klubradio, the only opposition radio station in Hungary, will change course to carry government propaganda.

August 4, 2015 2:36 am

Vajna, i.e. Orban probably still aims to obtain TV2, the second most viewed television channel.

August 4, 2015 2:55 am

The pecking order.

Extra taxpayers’ money to home towns (or village) of the Orban cabinet.

1- Orban (Felcsut) 3,900 [thousand forints/inhabitant]
2- Sesztak (Kisvarda) 576
3- Lazar (Hodmezo…) 255
4- Szijjarto (Dunakeszi) 237
5- Varga+Fazekas (Karcag) 164
6- Hende (Szombathely) 156

August 4, 2015 2:56 am
The leftists cannot outsource media to Orthodox Jews, that’s ridiculous. Orban (Simicska) kept an extremely sophisticated media empire afloat for 8 years while in opposition – from Helyi Théma to Magyar Nemzet to HirTV and Info Rádió to Klassz FM to Heti Válasz and Index (was also owned by a fidesznik oligarch) on and on. The present left-wing literally has nothing and hopes that 5 thousand printed copies of Magyar Narancs or ÉS (that is for the time being because these titles will sooner or later shut down given their minuscule readerships, HVG is certainly in a very precarious position) will do the trick. The leftists have no strategy, no ideas, nothing. Even Klubrádió was sold to the Orthodox Jews, and the leftists couldn’t keep galamus-csoport (a small scale blog) afloat, now Mozgó Világ (a monthly periodical) is going under. I don’t mind, I never read them, but it shows that the left is completely finished. In CEE without an own, loyal media empire the parties are completely toast. Jobbik on the other hand – as one could expect from a diligent, hard-working party with a vision – has now a sophisticated media portfolio. Jobbik’s media is full of crazy… Read more »
August 4, 2015 4:15 am

Oh, well – or not …
I’ve often joked here and elsewhere about M1TV etc being like North Korean State TV and even though life in North Korea is surely not easy for the people there it is a source of jokes for the rest of the world – like Hungary is starting to be …
Actually ( at least among our friends in Germany…) Hungary is considered already a kind of remnant from Socialist times – quaint, but very nice and friendly, alright for cheap holidays …

We continue to have lots of visitors this summer (friends and family) and everybody is very happy on holiday here.
Well, most of them can’t read the Hungarian news …

August 4, 2015 5:05 am

Can these racist blogs please be removed from the comments sections?

If you refer to anyone by their racial/religious culture, then why are you not defining everyone that way?

If you feel free to categorise and label “a Jew”, why are you not labelling anyone else by their culture or religion? Singling out one particular sector is known in more developed and emotionally evolved countries as racism.

Please feel free to call someone “a Jew” if that is what they are, but only if you also define others specifically, such as “a Reformist”, or “an Episcopalian”, or “a Methodist” or “a Catholic” etc.

Why do you only take the trouble to single out “a Jew”?

There can only be two reasons- one, you are too lazy to find out which religious sector someone is, or two, you are an antisemitic racist. Which would you prefer to be labelled?

Please Éva, until these rather simple, boorish Hungarians learn how to be civilised, can you omit their silly comments on your otherwise wonderful pages?
Many thanks.

August 4, 2015 10:34 am

Re: “Hungary is considered already a kind of remnant from Socialist times – quaint, but very nice and friendly, alright for cheap holidays”

Hey the country’s sure doing better on that score compared to KJu’s state over there! His place sure isn’t a ‘must-see’ ‘vendegs’ allowed there man…;-)…I guess you can go but there’s certainly a higher probability of getting involved in trouble in that police state.

And as for that Orwellian ‘hermit’ kingdom, Hungary looks like it just may follow if things keep on perking through its society. Pretty soon it could be a land-locked island among itself and it sure won’t be like Tahiti…;-)…