Budapest, October 8 (MTI) – The publishing company of Hungarian political daily Népszabadság said on Saturday it has suspended the publication of both the print and online editions of the paper until it comes up with a new business model.
Népszabadság’s circulation has shrunk by 74 percent, or about 100,000 copies, over the past ten years and the daily has as a consequence accumulated over 5 billion forints (EUR 16.4m) in losses since 2007 and faces significant losses this year, too, Mediaworks said in a statement.
Operating under its current business model, Népszabadság ” is adversely affecting the performance” of the publishing group, Mediaworks said, adding that “the long-term future of the group and of more than 1,000 employees, as well as the group’s publications will depend on the editorial offices, readership and the publications’ economic success”.
The publisher said it will focus on finding the best business model for the paper in order to preserve it in future.
Parallel with its decision to suspend the paper’s operation, Mediaworks said it is relieving Népszabadság’s staff and temporarily suspending services with contracted partners. Subscribers will be offered different publications and partly reimbursed.
Mediaworks chief financial officer Viktor Katona will take over the tasks of chief executive officer Balázs Rónai, who has asked to leave the company.
Népszabadság issued its Saturday print edition, but its online edition nol.hu was unavailable as of Saturday morning.
The opposition Socialists said that the suspension of Népszabadság’s operation marks a “black day” in the history of the Hungarian press and press freedom since the democratic transition.
Népszabadság, which has served as one of the leading organs of the opposition press over the past 25 years, has been “practically turned off” in a move which “cannot be explained by financial losses,” Ágnes Kunhalmi, the leader of the party’s Budapest chapter, told a press conference.
She noted that Népszabadság had recently published reports on “scandals surrounding the National Bank of Hungary and György Matolcsy”, its governor, as well as the “helicopter affair” of cabinet office chief Antal Rogán, and asked whether the paper’s suspension could be related to these stories. She added that business circles close to governing Fidesz had earlier ruined news portals Origo and Vs.hu, commercial broadcaster TV2 and the Pannon Lapok group of newspapers, while turning state media into a “party propaganda mouthpiece”.
“What is happening in Hungary evokes Putin’s Russia,” said Kunhalmi, adding that her party is organising a demonstration to express solidarity with Népszabadság and for press freedom on Saturday evening.
The leftist opposition Democratic Coalition (DK) said that Saturday’s decision was “one of the most vile attacks against Hungarian democracy and press freedom”.
“We have no doubt that silencing the largest political daily, one of the most prominent representatives of democratic Hungary, has been one of the most despicable decisions of the Orbán government,” the party’s spokesman told a press conference.
DK deems the measure “a new chapter in the construction of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s dictatorship”, Zsolt Gréczy said, adding that the party will appeal to the leaders of the EU, the Council of Europe and the OSCE “to condemn the Orban government’s step”.
The party will participate at demonstration organised to express solidarity with Népszabadság, he said.
The small green LMP party said that what happened to Népszabadság was unacceptable in a democracy and called on ruling Fidesz to prove that it is not responsible for the paper’s suspension.
The suspension of the newspaper “goes too far”, Bernadett Szél, the party’s co-leader said during a party congress, adding that “what is at stake now is whether the Hungarian press can remain free and the government can be held accountable for its acts”.
Szél said the party congress unanimously voiced its solidarity with Népszabadság, adding that she will participate at a demonstration in the square in front of Parliament.
The opposition Jobbik party said the “undermining” of Népszabadság was another example of the “uninhibited megalomania of Viktor Orbán”, not market logic. The state of Hungary’s left is clearly reflected in their inability to defend even their own media, the party added.
Governing Fidesz said in a statement that it views Nepszabadsag’s suspension as a business decision, not a political one, considering its sizable losses.
“A violation of press freedom would be interfering with a media owner’s decisions,” the party added.
Fidesz noted that the paper had earlier been owned by the opposition Socialists, but they had parted with their stake in 2015.
Austria’s Vienna Capital Partners (VCP) acquired the local media portfolio of Ringier and Axel Springer in January 2014. The papers included the national dailies Népszabadság, Nemzeti Sport and Világgazdaság, as well as eight regional newspapers. In the same year, VCP announced the establishment of Mediaworks and said it wanted to keep and develop its broad media portfolio.