Pro-Orban media moguls who destroyed Hungary’s media now targeting European outlets

Jun 30, 2019 by

A buying spree by Orban’s oligarchs across Europe means more far-right news outlets and more danger to EU democracies

Early one Saturday in October 2016, the staff at one of Hungary’s oldest newspapers started their day off trying to relax. Anxiety had been high for months amid rumors that the nation’s most popular broadsheet publishing since the anti-Soviet uprising in 1956 would be the next victim in Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s aggressive campaign to close or destroy the country’s independent media.

Deputy editor Marton Gergely remembers vividly that he was making French toast for his children when life as he knew it turned upside down. For a business that thrives on scoops and inside sources, no one in the Nepszabadsag newsroom had any idea if — or when — disaster would strike. Around 8:30 a.m. journalists from his newsroom started making panicky calls. They had been locked out of email and the paper’s servers.

Ten minutes later — at 8:40 a.m. — Nepszabadsag’s website froze, its archive was erased and the newspaper effectively died. “Just like Pompeii,” Gergely recalled. “It was out of the blue, it was sudden, and it was brutal.”

Unlike the ancient Roman city ossified under tons of lava and ash, the swift demise of Hungary’s most widely read newspaper and dozens of other independent media in the country was not caused by natural disaster. Their destruction was man made. For the last several years, a cabal of Orban’s childhood friends and political allies seized control or closed publications and broadcasters which didn’t toe the leader’s political line. Sometimes their moves have been transparent. Some — like the closure of Nepszabadsag — have been more opaque. But without a doubt they have been very effective. Today, almost 80% of Hungary’s media is controlled by the state or friends of Orban, according to the Mertek media monitoring group, and media ownership is more concentrated now than at any time since 1990, when the country moved from one-party rule to democracy.

Now, Hungary’s pro-Orban media moguls, flush with cash and strong political connections, are targeting for acquisition news outlets in other parts of Europe, including Macedonia, Slovenia and even the United Kingdom, that Orban hopes to foster his far-right ideology.

A senior commander in this media campaign is the same man who Gergely and other Hungarian journalists say helped engineer Nepszabadsag’s closure and has become Hungary’s biggest media mogul: Lorinc Meszaros, a man who grew up with Orban and whose career path charts a reverse arc of Pompeii.

In a few short years, he has transformed from a small town pipe-fitter reportedly on the verge of bankruptcy to one of Hungary’s wealthiest men. In November the owners of 476 media outlets, who – like Meszaros – are friends of Orban “donated” these assets to a foundation which one of his companies now manages and controls.

Source: Pro-Orban media moguls who destroyed Hungary’s media now targeting European outlets – Coda Story

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