Hungary Newspaper Closure Another Step in Orban’s Illiberal Democracy
By Erika Asgeirsson
Reports over the weekend indicate that the main left-leaning opposition newspaper in Hungary was shut down. While the official line is that the newspaper was shut down on commercial grounds, many suspect the real reason is more nefarious.
The newspaper, Nepszabadsag, has been critical of Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Last week the paper reported on corruption allegations against an official close to Orban, Central Bank Governor Gyorgy Matolcsy. The paper also reported critically on the recent referendum on refugee resettlement. If the paper’s shuttering is indeed political payback from the government, it will have significant impact on freedom of the media and liberal democracy in Hungary. This would be another one of Orban’s dangerous moves toward an “illiberal democracy,” threatening the protection of rule of law and human rights in Hungary.
The paper’s closing isn’t the only allegation of Orban tightening his grip on freedom of press in Hungary. He and his party have placed media outlets under the regulatory authority of one entity that is highly partisan. Civil society has consistently reported that this has led to increased government interference in independent media. Meanwhile an increasing share of media outlets are ending up in the hands of allies to the right-wing government. Threats to press pluralism and freedom of the media took center-stage at Hungary’s most recent Universal Periodic Review by the Human Rights Council.
Nepszabadsag employees learned of the newspaper’s closure on Saturday as they headed into work, but were not allowed in the building. Many described the closure as sudden and unexpected. In addition to halting the print production of the newspaper, the website was taken down. Around 2,000 people gathered in Budapest on Saturday to protest the closure.
Rumors have circulated that the paper will be sold to media entities close to Orban and his party. This further press consolidation is a threat to freedom of the media in Hungary and leaves little room for opposition reporting.
Human Rights First will continue to monitor the situation in Hungary, and in particular the threat of far-right parties to liberal and inclusive democracy. The United States should speak out strongly against Orban’s threat to a free media and against other illiberal moves by the Hungarian government.
Multilateral institutions play a key role in shaming states to comply with human rights norms and providing appropriate guidance and support. The United States must also support the work of multilateral institutions that seek to protect freedom of the media and hold states accountable for human rights violations.