Saturday’s sudden and unexpected suspension of one of Hungary’s oldest and most important opposition newspapers, Népszabadság, has polarized most of the Hungarian political spectrum into solidarity with the paper. Ruling-party Fidesz stands alone in its decision not to condemn the cessation of the print daily and its website, a move most parties regard as an Orbán-directed putsch to dismantle what little remains of press freedom in Hungary.
Below are the statements released by several of Hungary’s political parties concerning the closure of Népszabadság.
“Fidesz looks at the publication suspension of Népszabadság not as a political, but as a rational economic decision, since the paper created a HUF 5 billion loss according to information from the publisher,” the party said through its Minister of State for Government Communication Bence Tuzson. “The true violation of the freedom of the press would be if the Government interfered with the decision of a media operator. We understand the protests by the Hungarian Socialist Party in view of the fact that the paper was owned by the MSZP for years, but they recently sold it”, Tuzson added in reaction to the fact that the socialists were organizing a protest in front of the paper’s headquarters on Saturday evening.
“I think it was high time that Népszabadság be closed unexpectedly, that’s my modest opinion,” Fidesz vice-president Szilárd Németh said on RTL Klub television. “Szabad Nép was the predecessor to this paper, and that’s actually how they act, so I’m not going to shed tears for Népszabadság,” Németh said, referring to a Hungarian Communist Party paper which operated between 1942 and 1956, before the foundation of Népszabadság.
Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) called a “solidarity protest” on Saturday in response to the sudden closure of left-wing print daily Népszabadság. The protest was held in front of the headquarters of Mediaworks Kft., the publisher of the paper responsible for its closure.
“It is not a standard procedure in a democracy or in normal business life to, from one moment to the next, obscure and make inaccessible a decades-old defining paper without informing the staff. This is unjustifiable from an ethical and business perspective, and does not happen in a rule-of-law state,” the party wrote on its website. “This is a signal to all journalists and media workers that no one is safe. This is why we must stick together in solidarity with one another against the oppressive power.”
MSZP mayor of Salgótarján Máté Huszár informed the media of his town’s break of contract with Mediaworks Kft. in solidarity with Népszabadság. In a statement on his Facebook page, Huszár said the company had printed the town’s Salgótarján Ma (Salgótarján Today) municipal newspaper “impeccably”, but that “after today’s events, we consider it unacceptable to work with such a company that – to put it mildly – deals with its colleagues so unethically. As democrats and as sensitive people, we along with the editors of Salgótarján Ma stand up beside the staff of Népszabadság.”
Zoltán Gőgös, vice-president MSZP, said he is happy that Prime Minister Orbán did not carry out the dismantling of Népszabadság while MSZP was still a minority shareholder in the paper’s closed-stock corporation.
According to Gőgös, he does not know whether the Népszabadság scandal is enough to mobilize the entire opposition to act together in some fashion.
“For the time being, we do not know whether this is the final drop in the cup that will cause it to overflow. This might be it,” he said.
Gőgös said he knows that Orbán is behind the closure of Népszabadság because “our experiences show that no decision is made without him.”
Együtt (Together) party vice-president Viktor Szigetvári wrote on his party’s website that the closure of Népszabadság amounted to Orbán directing a “Putin and Erdoğan tempo,” and that his regime’s struggle against media freedom had reached its climax with the paper’s closure.
“In the past years, the paper has revealed numerous cases of corruption tied to Viktor Orbán and Fidesz,” Szigetvári wrote. “First he bought the paper through his strawmen with funds he stole from public money, so that he could liquidate it. After the failed referendum, he is having a showdown with everyone and everything that stands in his way and that represents a different opinion than his own. Együtt stands in complete solidarity with all the staff of Népszabadság.”
“The total undermining of Népszabadság is the newest example of Viktor Orbán’s uninhibited megalomania,” extreme-right Jobbik spokesman Ádám Mirkóczki said in a press release. “It is clear for everyone that the closure of the daily paper was not dictated by market logic, but by Viktor Orbán’s command and the machinations of his economic circle. While the paper is distinctly distant from the ethos of Jobbik, we still convey to every decent left-wing person, that Jobbik cannot be stopped by this kind of mafia method, and as soon as we change this profoundly corrupt and unscrupulous Fidesz government, we will restore press freedom in Hungary. ”
Democratic Coalition (DK)
Democratic Coalition party has turned to international forums in response to the suspension of Népszabadság, including the European Union, the European Council, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), and has informed representatives of the international press of the case, according to DK spokesman Zsolt Gréczy. The party is waiting for the organizations to “condemn the actions of the Orbán government, which have taken a new step to eradicate what remains of press freedom in Hungary.”
“We see in this story the newest chapter in the building up of the Orbán dictatorship, and we think the Orbán government will not stop here,” Gréczy said. “Aside from showing solidarity with the paper’s employees….we think that a party can help in this situation by amplifying the noise of this humiliating act in its international network. We have no doubt that the silencing of the biggest political daily and one of democratic Hungary’s most important representatives is one of the Orbán government’s most despicable crimes.”
Hungarian Liberal Party
Gábor Fodor, president of the Hungarian Liberal Party, said he “cannot find words to express the outrage” caused by the Népszabadság scandal.
“In the case of Népszabadság, we are talking about a symbolic issue that goes well beyond any simple media-related scandal,” he said. “This is about there being a newspaper which happens to be the largest opposition print newspaper, furthermore, a newspaper that has a very serious tradition in Hungary, a newspaper at the top of the list of those newspapers which have influence, high circulation. So, a newspaper like this was shut down with the stroke of a pen in a very underhanded way. There should be no illusions about this: this was not a business decision, that is a fake excuse…. Again the government has crossed a line, just as it does every week and every month. But this time it has crossed a symbolic line that puts Hungary in the same category as Putin’s Russia and Erdoğan’s Turkey,” he said.
Hungarian Two-tailed Dog Party
Gergő Kovács, president of the Two-tailed Dog Party, tells the Beacon his organization is already working on a solution. They will be publishing a new Népszabadság until the old Népszabadság’s issues are sorted out.
“The new Népszabadság will draw on articles from [pro-government] publications such as Magyar Idők and Magyar Hírlap. These articles will expose how recent scandals – which were very damaging to the government – were actually fake and totally made-up news stories. For example, we will show how pictures of Antal Rogán’s helicopter ride were totally photoshopped,” Kovács said.