Hungary’s largest broadsheet newspaper Népszabadság has stopped publication, with journalists and the opposition alleging government pressure. About 2,000 demonstrators gathered outside the national parliament yesterday (9 October) to protest against the move.
Népszabadság is a leading centre-left daily. It is independent, but tends to support the left-leaning political opposition. Journalists said it was a “coup” – they were given notice after being stopped from entering the building on Saturday. The owners said it was a business decision following declining sales. There is no government comment.
“Népszabadság has lost 74% of its sold circulation in the past 10 years, corresponding to more than 100,000 copies,” the company said in a statement. The suspension would enable it to “focus on finding the best business model for the paper, in line with the current trends in the industry, and will start consultations in order to best secure future development,” the statement added.
Népszabadság has often criticised Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. It opposed last weekend’s referendum on refugees.
Orbán’s government has often been accused of using public media as a government mouthpiece.
A number of private media outlets have also been bought by his allies, critics say.
Népszabadság’s shutdown includes its print and online versions.
“We are in shock. Of course they will try and paint this as a business decision but it’s not the truth,” a journalist who did not wish to be named told AFP news agency.
Opposition parties said the move showed Orbán wanted to suppress press freedoms in Hungary and to gain full control of the media. The Socialist Party said it was a “black day for the press”.
Responding to the closure of Népszabadság, The President of the S&D Group in the European Parliament Gianni Pittella said:
“The freedom of press is today in danger in Hungary. The most influential and independent Hungarian daily newspaper Népszabadság has been suspended overnight, without any previous notice, on the pretext of a financial reason.
“It is very common in undemocratic systems to shut down hostile newspapers that undermine the power of the government by uncovering – for example – clear cases of corruption. This is exactly what has happened at Népszabadság.
“We urge the Hungarian authorities to put in place all possible measures to ensure the re-opening of Népszabadság and the return to work of all its journalists.
“This is what a real democratic government should do. This is what Europe expects from Orban and the Hungarian government.”