Green study reveals dangerous media concentration in Hungary

A study by Hungarian media expert Agnes Urban has calculated the media concentration in Hungary for the first time.

It says, "Altogether 77,8% of the political/public affairs market is financed by sources decided by the ruling party." 

In the 1990s and 2000s, media in Hungary were not free of political influence, but were subject to free competition. A 1996 law prohibited excessive concentration of ownership of various media. 

Viktor Orban has been Prime Minister of Hungary continuously since 2010 (he was also Prime Minister in 1998-2002).

 Since 2010, the rules against concentration of media ownership have been abolished, and the Media Council is now occupied exclusively by persons proposed by the governing party Fidesz. 

Foreign investors, who previously contributed to the diversity of media ownership and thus to opinions, left the Hungarian market under increasing pressure, including numerous German companies. 

The Funke Group and an Axel Springer company with Ringier sold their shares. Pro Sieben Sat1 sold the second-largest Hungarian television station TV2. 

Deutsche Telekom sold the market leader in the online sector, Origo. The buyers were mostly political actors or investors with close ties to the governing party Fidesz.

 Following Viktor Orban's fatal dispute with his long-time ally Lajos Simicka, who had previously controlled many media in the government's interests, media concentration was further institutionalized. In November 2019, government-related media entrepreneurs "donated" numerous media to a new foundation, the Central European Press and Media Foundation (KESMA), headed by current and former members of the ruling Fidesz.

For the overall analysis, private media and publicly financed media are combined (based on 2017 revenue data of 246.5 billion Hungarian forint, HUF for short, 1 euro is about 320 HUF). KESMA has 24.0% of this (HUF 59.2 billion), KESMA and other government-related private media 39.7% (HUF 97.9 bn) and finally these two together with the publicly financed media 77.8%(191.8 bn HUF). For private media alone, government-related media account for 64.1% of revenues in 2017. 

The total of 152.7 HUF of the private sector market can be broken down by different types of media: Print media (HUF 60 bn): 78.0% KESMA, 80.2% with other government-related media Radio (3.6 bn HUF): 8.0% KESMA, 86.8% with other government-related media Television (77.7 bn HUF): 8.4% KESMA and 52.8% with other government-related media Online (11.5 bn HUF): 49.2% KESMA

Two and a half years ago, Green Hungarian MEP Benedek Javor lodged a complaint with the EU Commission against the concentration of Hungarian media ownership and against state aid to the MTVA broadcasting company, which exists alongside the public Duna Media Corporation. Despite almost exclusive financing by the state, MTVA, in contrast to Duna Media, escapes all rules of non-partisan control for public media. Last Friday, Competition Commissioner Vestager announced that she would investigate the complaint.

The spokesman for Bündnis 90/Die Grünen in the European Parliament, Sven Giegold, told EUToday, "In Hungary, the Fourth Estate is on the leash of Viktor Orban. Hungary's media answer to Orban instead of controlling him. Since a while Hungarian media can hardly be called independent anymore. Independent media are the backbone of democracy, Orban has broken it. 

"For far too long, Competition Commissioner Vestager has ignored the Green complaints about the dramatic concentration of media in government hands. EU Commissioner Vestager must immediately investigate the media concentration thoroughly and use all legal possibilities against it. We demand that the freedom, independence and diversity of the press must be a priority of the next European Parliament and EU Commission. 

He said, "The EU Commission must use competition law to prevent and to break excessive concentration of media ownership. The Commission must use the EU directive on audiovisual media services to establish binding transparency on media ownership. European rules must exclude conflicts of interest of media owners, especially political influence. Overall, the EU institutions must do much more to counter the negative trend in press freedom in Europe.

"Manfred Weber must not wonder when asked why he did not make media freedom in Hungary a condition for Viktor Orban's remaining in the European People's Party. Weber's conditions referred only to the anti-Juncker campaign and the Central European University in Budapest.

"An effective instrument for the protection of European values and fundamental rights in the Member States, as Weber promises, must equally protect freedom of the press. Restricting freedom of the media and civil society in Hungary is a threat to democracy. 

"The half-baked suspension of Fidesz showed that Weber is above all concerned about the cohesion of his party family, not about European values. Basic values must take precedence over party loyalty.

The freedom of the press under social democrat rule in Romania and under the Czech Prime Minister of the Liberals is also unacceptably threatened. It is damaging to democracy how the Romanian television stations Romania TV and Antena 3 throw their slander against the judiciary, the anti-corruption agency and demonstrators critical of the government in disregard of all journalistic standards. Both belong to wealthy friends of the Social Democratic government. 

"Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, part of the European liberals, has a conflict of interest as the owner of two daily newspapers in which journalists complain about editorial interference by the prime minister.

Viktor Orban and his friends in Germany are threatening to return Europe to dangerous nationalism. On the other hand, we want to renew Europe's promises of the rule of law and democracy. 

"The European Union is already funding investigative journalism with tens of thousands of euros on a Green initiative. We want to permanently guarantee European financial support for investigative journalism in the next EU budgets and in the next multiannual financial framework."

The Hungarian Green MEP Benedek Javor adds, "The misuse of EU Funds helped to build up the KESMA Foundation in Hungary. The Commission should use its existing competences particularly on competition policy to step up against unlawful state aid and media concentration. Without media plurality there is no real chance to beat Fidesz on any elections.“

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Martin Banks

Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a highly qualified journalist with many years experience of working within the EU institutions. He is an occasional, and highly valued, contributor to EU today, writing on a wide variety of issues.

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