RTL viewership increases in response to critical view of gov’t

August 28, 2014


More people are watching the news programme of RTL Klub since it reintroduced serious domestic political journalism, a study published by Marketing Média Online has found. Despite earlier predictions that the channel would lose viewers by trading light human-interest news for hard-hitting items on government corruption, the channel’s move has so far proved profitable.

RTL Klub, which is ultimately owned by parent company Bertelsmann, is one of Hungary’s two major commercial television channels, and the largest that is still independent from the government.

Having previously shunned news on the Orbán government, RTL changed tack to a more critical stance in the beginning of June, when it was seemingly targeted by a special graduated tax of up to 40 percent on advertising revenues. RTL calculated that the levy may be the highest tax on a TV channel anywhere in the world.  According to business online vg.hu, of the HUF 1.3 billion (USD 5.6 million) in semi-annual ad tax revenues due by August 20, the RTL group paid HUF 1,054 billion, or 81 percent, of which television broadcaster RTL Klub itself paid HUF 854.7 million, or nearly 66 percent of all ad tax revenues.  The fact that the brunt of the ad tax effectively falls on RTL Klub has led the beleagured media group to accuse the government of deliberately targeting it financially in an attempt to force its German owners to sell their Hungarian business units.  Government officials have responded by accusing RTL of tax evasion, a charge RTL executives categorically deny.

On June 11 RTL ran a piece on the growing fortune of the Felcsút mayor, later presenting the growing profits enjoyed by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s father and his family business. Since then RTL Klub has also run stories on government corruption, the curbing of the freedom of the press, growing extreme poverty and the rise of the far-right in Hungary.

RTL regional director for south-eastern Europe Andreas Rudas said he “cannot imagine a scenario” where RTL would leave Hungary because of the extraordinary measures. Besides not wanting to set other countries a bad example regarding the Hungarian government’s new taxation framework, RTL management and the German political elite in general is handling the issue of Hungary’s media freedom “most seriously”, Rudas said in an interview with HVG.hu.