Lajos Simicska, a former Orbán friend and now outspoken opponent, finally relinquished control of Hir TV on 1 August to Zsolt Nyerges, a businessman and Orbán ally who had acquired the media group that includes Hir TV on 5 July. It also includes a news website, a political weekly, a daily newspaper and radio station.
The new owner immediately executed a U-turn in Hir TV’s editorial line, turning it into a pro-Fidesz channel. Just hours after the takeover was confirmed, the channel shut down its leading news programme – which was well-known for criticizing the government – and fired its anchor, Olga Kálmán. An Orbán speech was rebroadcast in its stead. Other journalists and executives have also been fired since then, further departures are expected and Nyerges has appointed Gabor Liszkay, the owner of a pro-Fidesz media company, as “media adviser.”
“This takeover by Fidesz allies is yet further confirmation of the government’s determination to control the media,” RSF said. “The authorities are increasingly curbing the independence of the press and its ability to fulfil its role as democracy’s watchdog.”
The latest acquisition has brought an emblematic opposition TV channel into the pro-Fidesz media camp, which has been growing for years as the party has steadily acquired media outlets as part of a strategy for silencing political opposition. To avoid being seen as openly in control of the media, Orbán uses as well-established method in which allies buy up media companies and reorient their editorial policies by means of censorship, dismissals and closures.The opposition daily Népszabadság was closed in 2016 after covering a scandal involving the prime minister, while the leading regional newspapers were acquired by Orbán allies in 2017.
Democracy has been in retreat in Hungary ever since Orbán’s return to the premiership in 2010 and it is now ranked 73rd out of 180 countries in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index.