Simicska changes leadership of his media outlets as he switches into “campaign mode”

November 15, 2017

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Photo: index.hu/János Bődey

Oligarch and media mogul Lajos Simicska (pictured) has centralized the leadership of his media empire to “make the responsible political and public life engagement of HírTV, Magyar Nemzet and Lánchíd Rádió clearer and more palpable for readers, viewers and listeners,” reports 444.hu.

It was announced at the Tuesday morning editorial meeting of Magyar Nemzet that Gábor D. Horváth is no longer the editor-in-chief of the daily newspaper. D. Horváth, who has been an employee of Simicska’s media empire for decades, is succeeded by Csaba Schlecht, current editor-in-chief of Lánchíd Rádió. Later on Tuesday it was announced that deputy editors-in-chief Szabolcs Töhötöm Tóth and Szabolcs Szerető will also leave Magyar Nemzet at the end of the year.

Simicska’s son Ádám Simicska, who has been an executive director since April 2016, is also resigning. Ádám Simicska is succeeded by Csaba Faragó, a former CEO of the State Privatization and Property Management company and the MVM Group and ambassador to Singapore. Faragó will also take over the CEO duties of HírTV succeeding László Pauwlik. Pauwlik will stay at HírTV as a deputy program director.

Ádám Simicska has been allegedly “withdrawn from the field” by his father as Lajos Simicska expects “a life and death fight in the campaign” in the months before the general election in spring next year.

An official statement was published in Magyar Nemzet on Tuesday in which the publisher stated that “The aim of the changes in staff is to make the responsible political and public life engagement of HírTV, Magyar Nemzet and Lánchíd Rádió clearer and more palpable for readers, viewers and listeners. The unified management allows the three media affected to make their ongoing cooperation even more effective.”

An editor, who asked to remain anonymous, told 444.hu: “The atmosphere is rather tense now as everybody held on to D. Horváth, who was always faithful to the professional principles that characterized Magyar Nemzet after February 6, 2015, the day Lajos Simicska publicly denounced Viktor Orbán, ending a decades-long cooperation with the Prime Minister. Before that, he was the one who opposed the increased Orbanism inside the editorial.”

Many Magyar Nemzet employees reportedly told 444.hu that D. Horváth did not agree with the concept of centralizing the management of Simicska’s outlets.

Another employee close to Simicska told the news site that the former Fidesz oligarch found it unacceptable to place the same emphasis on a party with one percent support as one with over 10 percent support. According to this employee, D. Horváth might have felt that he would not be able to provide the same degree of ability to maneuver to the journalists as before.

“He had many arguments with the management about how much emphasis a given political theme gets. He did not explicitly say that it was about Jobbik,” a Magyar Nemzet journalist told 444.hu, which was unsuccessful in its attempt to contact D. Horváth.

Although the journalists at Magyar Nemzet will stay put, for the time being many of them fear that the days of the objective and more balanced Magyar Nemzet are numbered, and the daily will once again become the mere tool of a political party, this time Jobbik’s.

The new editor-in-chief’s statement to 24.hu does not give much reason for hope:

“[…] it’s not a secret, that in my opinion right now things in Hungary are heading in a very bad direction. And I’ve never hid it either that, according to my private opinion, I would be much happier if after 2018 the country’s Prime Minister would be called not Viktor Orbán but [Jobbik leader] Gábor Vona.”

In April, Lajos Simicska denied directly financing the radical-right-turned-nationalist-people’s-party Jobbik, but stated that “Jobbik has all my sympathies”.

Magyar Nemzet has been providing significantly greater coverage of Jobbik than other media outlets in recent times, both in terms of the number and tone of articles about the extremist party. 444.hu notes that it is not irrelevant how the management will conduct this transition to “campaign mode,” as Simicska’s outlets have contracted many liberal and left-wing journalists in recent years who might find the outlets’ more open support of Jobbik repulsive.