Right-wing media war heats up in Hungary

August 3, 2015


Former Fidesz oligarch Lajos Simicska has no intention of selling off any of his media portfolio’s holdings, a source close to the Prime Minister’s new media empire tells Hungarian news site Népszabadság.

Last week, Népszabadság reported that Mária Schmidt, the millionaire managing director of the Terror House and confidant of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, had expressed an interest in purchasing online daily news portal Origo.hu from Magyar Telekom with a company she incorporated earlier this year, Médiaháló Kft.

Népszabadság tried to find out more from Schmidt regarding her interest in Origo, but the Terror House director declined to comment. Other sources close to the government have confirmed to Népszabadság Schmidt’s interest in purchasing Origo.hu.

The Prime Minister’s media people, which include senior advisor Árpád Habony, Napi Gazdaság owner Gábor Liszkay, Continental Dohány owner János Sánta, former Hollywood producer and gambling magnate Andy Vajna, and now Schmidt, are working on constructing a pro-Fidesz media empire capable of challenging Simicska’s media outlets by the time Fidesz’s party congress convenes this coming autumn.

Despite rumors that Schmidt is also interested in acquiring pro-government weekly magazine Heti Válasz, this has yet to be confirmed.

Heti Válasz Editor-In-Chief Gábor Borókai declined to comment on the rumors, and another source tells Népszabadság that the weekly’s publisher, Infocenter.hu Média Befektetési Zrt., owned by Simicska’s close business associate Zsolt Nyerges, has no intention of selling.

Despite his employer’s connection to Simicska, Borókai was critical of the media and construction magnate after Simicska brought up the prime minister’s past as an agent for the communist government with conservative on-line news and commentary portal Mandiner.

While it is clear that the government and Fidesz party members are virtually barred by Fidesz from speaking with or appearing on Simicska-owned media outlets, Heti Válasz appears to be the exception. However, apart from Minister for Rural Development Sándor Fazekas, no other government official has appeared in the weekly.

Sources tell Népszabadság the Prime Minister plans to launch his latest offensive to capture “right-wing” votes starting in the autumn by driving Simicska-owned television broadcaster Hír TV and daily newspaper Magyar Nemzet into obscurity.

Hungary’s so-called conservative intelligentsia, opinion leaders, and journalists think the Simicska-Orbán media war will have a divisive effect on the so-called politically active middle-class whose consolidation is one of the government’s main objectives, according to Orbán.

In any case, Hungary’s media wars have shown Hungarians the lengths to which Orbán will go to secure his political future through the control of national media.