PM taps right-wing media lawyer to head Media Authority

Leaders from across the political spectrum have denounced Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s nominee for president of Hungary’s Media Authority as a  loyal puppet controlled by the ruling Fidesz party and its inner circle of media and business oligarchs. Orbán on Wednesday nominated right-wing media lawyer Monika Karas to serve as successor of recently deceased Annamária Szalai as head of Hungary’s Media Authority (NHMM). Karas has served as legal counsel for Government-linked media outlets Lánchíd Rádió, Magyar Nemzet, and HirTV, and for numerous Fidesz officials, including the Prime Minister’s chief adviser Árpád Habony. From 1993 to 2002, Karas represented Magyar Fórum Kiadó, a publisher which was at the time owned by far-right politician and anti-Semitic writer István Csurka. Read more ››

Fidesz-linked firm buys national economic daily

Fidesz-linked think tank Századvég’s Gazdaszágkutató Zrt. (Century Economic Research Inc.) announced this week it has purchased Napi Gazdaság, a top national business and economic daily. Századvég is part of a consortium of companies have been awarded HUF 4.7 billion (EUR 15 million) in state consultancy contracts by the Ministry of National Development (MND) since 2011, HVG reports. The consortium serves as the primary political and economic advisory group to the government and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Read more ››

Hungary’s top two TV stations oppose new ad tax

RTL Klub and TV2, Hungary’s largest national private TV stations, are protesting a government decision to tax media companies according to their net annual advertising revenues, according to a May 28 article in An announcement from RTL Klub reportedly called the measure “unprecedented in Europe,” and added that the company might leave Hungary over the tax. The graded tax, announced a few days earlier, would hit the major broadcasters hardest. The tax is reportedly part of the government’s effort to make sure the country can exit the EU’s excessive debt procedure. Read more ››

Átlátszó fights to expose public media spending

Amid steady budget increases and cuts to public media staff, Hungary’s public media management fund, the MTVA, has been outsourcing production to private firms with close ties to Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party, according to an ongoing investigation by pro-transparency investigative reporting NGO, Átlátszó. The group, which has been working to uncover the MTVA’s spendings since 2011, has published a series of reports based primarily on leaked documents that detail the MTVA’s outside contracts with Government-linked private companies and individuals to produce programs for Hungary’s public media.


Media Council issues first fine on a print daily

By Judit Barta

Hungary’s Media Council on May 8 handed down its first sanction against a print and online publication with a HUF 250,000 (EUR 862) fine for hate speech against right-wing daily Magyar Hírlap for publishing Zsolt Bayer’s January 5 opinion piece, in which he called Roma “animals” who “shouldn’t be allowed to exist.” Read more ››

Human Rights Watch: Hungarian media face political pressure

Independent media outlets in Hungary practice self-censorship as a result of unclear regulations and declines in public and private advertising revenue, according to a new report published by Human Rights Watch. The May 2013 report, “Wrong Direction on Rights: Assessing the Impact of Hungary’s New Constitution and Laws,” reviews how changes to Hungary’s constitution and media laws are threatening the country’s democracy by weakening its system of checks-and-balances.  Read more ››

Freedom House gives five EU countries “partly free” media rating

Greece dropped in its press freedom ranking to join Hungary and three other EU countries with only “partly free” media systems in 2012, according to the annual Press Freedom Index released by Freedom House on Wednesday. The media in Bulgaria, Italy and Romania also rated as “partly free,” according to the report.

Hungary’s press freedom score (36) remained unchanged from 2011, following steep declines in the country’s ratings since new media laws were passed in 2010. The report cites continued concerns “regarding extensive legislative and regulatory changes that have tightened government control of the media. A series of rulings by Hungary’s Constitutional Court and legal amendments adopted to meet objections from the European Commission in 2011 and 2012 have done little to curb the power of a new media authority controlled by the ruling Fidesz party.”

Hungarian Parliament votes to curb freedom-of-information rights

In a fast-tracked procedure on Tuesday, the Hungarian Parliament modified a freedom-of-information law to put limits on access to public information, stirring rebukes from Hungarian civil society groups, journalists and opposition lawmakers. The amendment was passed without public consultation in an “exceptional and urgent” Parliamentary session held two days after the draft was first submitted by Fidesz MPs. The measure comes as the government faces mounting pressure from a group of media outlets and NGOs to disclose the criteria it used to allocate tobacco sales licenses. Read more ››

Axel Springer and Ringier to pursue merger

Axel Springer AG and Ringier AG, two multinational media firms with extensive print media holdings in Hungary, are preparing to merge their Hungarian operations by the end of 2013, according to Hungarian economic daily, Napi Gazdaság. The companies first announced plans to merge its Central and Eastern European media operations in 2010 in hopes of expanding their footing in the region’s media market. The merger took place in neighboring countries but was blocked by the Hungarian Media Council in 2011 on grounds it would jeopardize the public’s “right to diverse information.” The companies withdrew their merger request but signaled their intention to pursue the deal in the future. Read more ››

Secrecy over new left-wing web portal stirs media hype

Since announcing his plans in February, the editor of a left-leaning Hungarian news portal set to launch in May remains evasive about details of the new outlet, including its financial backing and ownership. The new outlet will be headed by former Index editor-in-chief Péter Uj and includes a team of former Index journalists. Uj’s new operation could rival Index, Hungary’s top online news portal, in the competition for left-wing readers and advertisers, especially during the upcoming 2014 election season.