Orbán props up “opposition” paper Népszava with state advertising, says 444.hu

March 9, 2018

According to a lengthy exposé by 444.hu, Hungarian “opposition” print daily Népszava (People’s Voice) is deliberately being funded on the orders of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. 444.hu reports that Orbán sought out former Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) politician and party treasurer László Puch to run the once prominent left-wing daily after Népszabadság (Liberty of the People) was shut down in late 2016.

Per 444.hu:

  • Puch and Orbán met at the Orbán compound in Hatvanpuszta to discuss how to finance Népszava. A short time later, Puch reacquired the paper he had sold six months earlier.
  • A former Népszabadság employee who went to work for Népszava claims that in an address to the editorial staff, Puch said “we have money,” but that “if possible, let’s not attack the Orbán family.” According to that journalist, Heinrich Pecina made the exact same statement in 2014 when he acquired Népszabadság.
  • Orbán’s motivation behind propping up Népszava is to ensure that out-of-favour businessman Lajos Simicska’s Magyar Nemzet would not be the most-read opposition paper in Hungary.
  • Puch neither confirmed nor denied that he met with Orbán in Hatvanpuszta. “You just need to look at Népszava to see whether it is opposition. If it is, there’s no point in dwelling on what kind of money it operates on,” Puch told 444.hu.
  • Since being acquired by Puch, Népszava has been replete with state-funded advertisements.
  • The daily’s two largest advertisers are MVM (a state-owned electric) company and Szerencsejáték Zrt. (the state-owned gambling company).
  • In 2017, the government paid Népszava’s publisher some HUF 100 million to advertise the national consultation.
  • Hvg.hu reports state advertisements make up some 56 percent of Népszava’s advertising revenues. Vasárnapi Hírek (Sunday News), another Puch-owned newspaper, gets 44 percent of its revenues from state advertising.
  • At the end of 2017, Vasárnapi Hírek’s editor-in-chief resigned in protest over the paper’s decision to promote government propaganda.
  • Népszava‘s opposition attitude does not bother the government because the paper is critical of far-right Jobbik and Simicska, and does not attack Orbán’s family.
  • A faction within MSZP – whose interests are allied with those of Fidesz – used Népszava to torpedo the party’s first candidate for prime minister at the April 2018 general election, László Botka.

(The decision to prop up the one remaining leftwing daily on certain conditions also makes sense in light of the domestic and international fall-out over the closure of Népszabadság, Hungary’s largest print daily-ed).