Népszabadság was closed for political and not economic reasons, claims András Jámbor

October 10, 2016

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Every rationally thinking person must reject the distortion of normality that says it is all right to use money stolen from our tax forints to buy up the newspaper of a political opponent and destroy it. Whether Fidesz is capable of doing something and whether this is right and normal are two different things. Unfortunately, Fidesz was able to do this, but it is not normal to silence other political opinions and destroy people’s workplaces and lives. It is good to keep this in mind and not to give in to the seduction of accepting as normal the disgusting steps taken by those in power.

Translation of András Jámbor’s blogpost “It’s an enormous lie that Népszabadság was closed on market basis” of October 9th, 2016.

The proposition is idiotic because for a long time the Hungarian political media has not lived on the basis of the market with the exception of a few portals and newspapers like Index, for example.  As elsewhere in the world, Népszabadság was maintained by the previous publisher as well because possessing a premium political paper seemed important.  Even if it generated losses. Yes, we know precisely why publishers maintain such newspapers: in order to use them in the pursuit of their political and economic objectives.

But in the case of Népszabadság at this moment there are numerous reasons why the theory that it was closed for market reasons does not stand:

  • Over the past half year contracted with a number of new and well-known reporters.
  • The redesign of the newspaper, which cost a lot of money, took place a few weeks ago.
  • The redesign of the online portfolio was already under way.

If the losses were really unsustainable, then why did the publisher spend a fortune on these, and from what?

What Mediaworks is asking, that the editorial staff put together a business plan in under a few days showing how to proceed, is both ridiculous and cynical.  It seems rather unimaginable that they ran the paper to date without the publisher having a business plan.  And if one existed, then why didn’t they modify it?  And on the basis of the modified plan why send employees away (which obviously nobody desired), in order to reduce its losses in this manner?

But it is not good for the company, and certainly not for the paper, that from one day to the next a newspaper stops without prior warning, which is completely unjustifiable from a business point of view.  If readers are unable to find the content, and if the newspaper to which they subscribe is not delivered, and if they do not even merit a preliminary warning about the “suspension,” why should they remain committed to the newspaper?  After a possible resumption it is not at all certain that they will insist on the newspaper.  This further increases the loss.

Nor does the method of closure indicate a market-based decision.  If rationality had truly stood behind the closure, then it would not have ended this way.  The journalists humiliated, the paper closed without their knowledge, the system closed down, with the editors summoning them after the fact.  What sort of economic rationality could explain “negotiating” with employees running the newspaper with the pistol of their mortality?  This simply indicates that they wanted to destroy the paper.  Don’t forget either that it was not the entire Mediaworks that was shut down.  So they could have transferred journalists to other papers.  Or offered them other work given that they continue to have a huge portfolio (we are talking about the second-largest media company in the country in terms of revenue), and continue to operate.

And it is precisely the existence of the county papers that indicates who ordered the current execution.  Mediaworks did not touch the county papers. And numerous articles and countless sources alleged over the past few months that Árpád Habony and his circle had acquired Mediaworks.

According to our information, Fidesz and the highest levels of the government decided about yesterday several months ago.

The one goal, for example, might have been to focus public anger on Népszabadság while the restructuring of the county papers takes place.

Analyzing the situation on a market basis is ridiculous at best because there is a story to the past years of Népszabadság and Mediaworks. Here we are not thinking about how MSZP sold its shares in the paper without any guarantees (and contrary to statements that have taken flight, even the journalists wanted the socialists gone back then).

For Népszabadság was owned by Ringier, and when the Hungarian Ringier and Axel Springer tried to merge in 2011, the Hungarian Economic Competition Authority blocked it.  Later in 2014 it approved it by removing from the portfolio Nemzeti Sport, Népszabadság, Világgazdaság, and the county papers. Precisely that which Fidesz needed.  Of course the process was slow, and in this way instead of Világgazdaság they earlier pounced on Napi Gazdaság — the original plan was not to create Magyar Idők but to operate an economical paper, and it was only after G-Day (the day Fidesz oligarch and media mogul Lajos Simicska publicly denounced Prime Minister Viktor Orbán-tran.) that it was necessary to reorganize this as Magyar Idők. Nor is it necessary to explain why it is necessary to control the county papers.  Orbán’s favorite newspaper, the Nemzeti Sport, also had to come under Fidesz control, and also presumably Népszabadság which they intended to eliminate.

This summer Mediaworks bought the Pannon Papers Company, and in doing so obtained new county papers.  If market processes stood behind the Népszabadság ploughback, why did Mediaworks purchase the huge package of papers instead of managing losses?

How does closing such an influential paper without any attempt at consolidation one and a half years later — Népszabadság has been owned by Mediaworks for that long — appear to be an economically rational decision?

And the double twist in the story is that there was a buyer for both the county papers and Népszabadság who would have continued the papers outside of the Fidesz circles, or at least not directly under Fidesz direction, but that they were not permitted to buy these.

So the “market point of view” explanation is a total lie in connection with the closing of Népszabadság.

Every rationally thinking person must reject the distortion of normality that says it is all right to use money stolen from our tax forints to buy up the newspaper of a political opponent and destroy it.  Whether Fidesz is capable of doing something and whether this is right and normal are two different things.  Unfortunately, Fidesz was able to do this, but it is not normal to silence other political opinions and destroy people’s workplaces and lives.  It is good to keep this in mind and not to succumb to the seduction of accepting as normal the disgusting steps taken by those in power.