The publisher Médiaworks Zrt. has suspended the publishing of the opposition daily Népszabadság.
The publisher’s new substitute CEO ( the former resigned overnight) announced the decision in a statement on Saturday morning, surprising journalists, editors and readers alike. The statement justified the decision with the losses made by the once most prominent print media in Hungary.
The publisher said that Népszabadság lost 100,000 readers and suffered 5 billion forints (16.7 million euros) worth of losses in the last 10 years, and numbers looked terrifying for 2016 too. This is why they halted publishing until they can decide on a “new business model”.
Subscribers can choose another product from the Médiaworks portfolio or receive a refund. Journalists were locked out of the headquarters. The website was shut down, as well as the editorial software and the email-system. The journalists wrote on Facebook a “putsch is underway”.
Mediaworks has been Vienna Capital Partners’ property for two years. It includes a popular sports magazine (Nemzeti Sport) and 13 freshly acquired regional daily newspapers (each covering approximatively one of the 19 counties in Hungary).
Rumors in media suggested a secret deal between Vienna Capital Partners and Duna Aszfalt, a company tied to PM Orbán Viktor’s personal friend Mészáros Lőrinc, that the latter might acquire Médiaworks in the future. The same rumors said this deal would really include Nemzeti Sport and the regional newspapers into the governing party’s media portfolio. Fidesz has no need for Népszabadság, that Vienna Capital Partners does not want to keep, so it will be probably sold again to one of the remaining left-leaning media companies. The Official Business Register did not signal any changes in ownership.
Népszabadság published the two most controversial story on Fidesz in recent days. They revealed the director of the Central Bank, György Matolcsy divorced, and moved in with his young girlfriend who somehow used to work for him – in the Ministry of Economics and in the Central Bank – ever since she graduated. And despite her young age, she received one of the best salaries at the Central Bank. She does not work at the Central Bank anymore: she moved to the Central Bank’s controversial foundations, where her salary is no longer public.
The other story is about Fidesz strongman and leader of Orbán’s cabinet, Antal Rogán, who allegedly went to the wedding of a Hungarian soap-opera star on a helicopter with his family one day before Hungary’s ominous quota-referendum.
It is highly unlikely that the suspension would help with the loss of income and the loss of readers. Népszabadság closed 2015 at a profit, and managed to build its influence lost to online media outlets. The story resembles the case of Origo, one of the most influential websites of Hungary . The editor-in-chief was fired by Magyar Telekom (Deutsche Telekom’s Hungarian subsidiary) after the site wrote about the secret trips of Orbán’s trusted minister, János Lázár. Soon Origo was taken over by a company usually tied to the Central Bank Director György Matolcsy’s circle. The site has since ceased all criticism concerning the government.