State-owned company places dubious ads in government-aligned publication

November 30, 2016

00396303State-owned Hungarian Electric Works (MVM) is running expensive full-page color advertisements for a “start-up program” in pro-government print daily Magyar Idők, but questions as to what exactly the ads are advertising and why the company chose the government-aligned paper remain unanswered, reports nepszava.hu.

The full-page ad costing HUF 2.4 million (USD 8,200)  according to Magyar Idők’s advertising price list, advertises an energy start-up program, and directs readers to visit the program’s website. The website contains neither information about the program nor contact information, but has a window for registering an email address to receive “announcements.” Népszava registered but had received no information as of their article’s publication. The paper asked MVM directly what the program is and why they chose Magyar Idők, but received no response.

Magyar Idők has not been subject to an official audit, and for this reason its total circulation is unknown, though estimates acquired by Népszava suggest it sells 5-5.5 thousand papers daily. With such low circulation, the paper is not an effective way for MVM to advertise, which has raised suspicions that ads of this nature are simply a way for the state to fund the Fidesz-friendly paper.  

According to some estimates, 80 percent of the paper’s advertising revenue comes directly or indirectly from the government. MVM is one of Magyar Idők’s biggest advertisers. Previously, the state-owned company had placed full-page ads and “public information” booklets about Paks Nuclear Energy Zrt. and Paks 2, respectively, in Magyar Idők.  The booklets were also placed in pro-government Magyar Hirlap, owned by staunch Fidesz supporter Gábor Széles, recently ranked by Forbes as Hungary’s fifth-richest person.  The materials were produced by a media consortium owned by propaganda minister Antal Rogán’s neighbor Csaba Csetényi, whose media companies have won an astonishing series of lucrative government advertising contracts in recent years.

The high proportion of advertising revenues the state grants to government-friendly media has raised concerns that opposition media outlets are being deliberately suppressed. The controversial closure of leading print daily Népszabadság in October brought into focus how much money the government spends on its chosen media through advertising.