According to a statement released by the Budapest Stock Exchange (BÉT), Opimus Group, a company linked to Lőrinc Mészáros, the man more commonly known as Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s frontman, just purchased Mediaworks Hungary.
Rumors have circulated for months that a company tied to Mészáros was a potential buyer, and those rumors have turned out to be true. Mediaworks Hungary was the publisher of print/online daily Népszabadság (People-freedom) until it unexpectedly suspended the newspaper, its online version and archive, and the paper’s employees in early October.
The sudden and underhanded manner in which Népszabadság ceased publishing caused many to believe the publisher was motivated by political reasons. Even then, rumors suggested Mediaworks Hungary was on the verge of being sold to a company close to former gaspipe fitter Mészáros.
Népszabadság, with six decades of history, was considered the main opposition paper. Most recently it had broken several stories that turned out to be quite damaging for Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party, including propaganda minister Antal Rogán’s secret luxury helicopter ride to a wedding, and National Bank of Hungary (MNB) governor György Matolcsy’s extra-marital affairs involving the expenditure of public funds.
A statement released by Opimus claims the new owner will “first begin by closely examining whether Népszabadság could be restarted, and to make a decision on this issue as soon as possible. The decision will be communicated to those directly affected and the public at the appropriate time.”
Last week, the United States Department of State issued the following statement:
The United States shares the concerns of global press freedom advocates, international organizations, and Hungarian citizens, over the steady decline of media freedom in Hungary.
We are following closely the reported ban of an independent website from the parliament building on October 19 and the sudden closure of Hungary’s largest independent newspaper, Nepszabadsag, on October 8. The loss of this paper – regardless of the reason – is a blow to media pluralism in Hungary.
As a friend and ally, we encourage the Hungarian government to ensure an open media environment that exposes citizens to a diversity of viewpoints and opinions, a key component of our shared democratic values. We urge Hungary to work closely with the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media and other experts towards this end.