/Fact check: Shifts in the Hungarian media pluralism

Fact check: Shifts in the Hungarian media pluralism

The Hungarian European Member of Parliament István Ujhelyi from the Socialists and Democrats Group tweeted on the 29th of November 2018 that 18 out of the 20 most Hungarian daily read newspapers are owned by Lőrinc Mészáros. He adds that the Hungarian media pluralism is dead. This statement has been fact checked, and has been proven uncheckable.

Lőrinc Mészáros is a Hungarian businessman, and the mayor of the Hungarian village Felcsút. This village is also the hometown of Hungarian prime minister, Victor Orbán. Ujhelyi’s tweet claims that Mészáros is actually Orbán’s childhood friend, neighbour, and ‘favourite’ moneyman. In multiple articles like this article of the New York Times, we find that Mészáros and Orbán were indeed childhood friends, but the rest is unclear if this is correct.  

Apart from that, the tweet also mentions that 18 out of 20 most Hungarian daily newspapers are in the hands of Lőrinc Mészáros as well. Contacted by email, Ujhelyi provided the full list of those newspapers. Considering that Hungary is ranked on place 73 of the 180 countries on the World Press Freedom Index of 2018, there is a possibility that the information isn’t reliable.

Media pluralism

The Media Pluralism Monitor(MPM) helps to understand media plurality in Hungary to date. This yearly report from the Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom and which is co-funded by the European Union, assess the risks to media pluralism in 31 European countries. Therefore, they look at four main areas: Basic Protection, Market Plurality, Political Independence and Social Inclusiveness.

According to them, the Hungarian media landscape consists of a mix of public and private media. The former is mostly in hands of oligarchs with close government ties. The latter has been reorganised after the Media Act 2010, which involves minimising media concentration. This entails the prevention of a media landscape with less individuals who control a bigger share of the mass media.

Because of the absence of any regulations to look over fair market competition and to protect media pluralism, this Act hasn’t prevented concentration of the media in practice.

On a much smaller scale, there are still independent media, which are funded by crowdfunding or via international sponsors. But they experience increasing pressure from the government.

Contacted by email, István Ujhelyi added to his tweet: “Either there is media plurality, or there is no media plurality. The fact of the matter is that there is no media plurality in Hungary at the moment.”

He said this as a result of the establishment of the Central European Press and Media Foundationin November 2018. This foundation was given a majority of the pro-government media companies. This has resulted in a large right-winged entitywhich has its influence on the media freedom and plurality in Hungary.

The conclusion of MPM is that “the risks to media pluralism in Hungary are high.” But with the existence of independent media there is still some media diversity left. This statement could therefore normally be interpreted as false. But taking into account that the MPM is from 2017 and the establishment of the foundation happened in 2018, we don’t know which exact consequences it had on the media plurality. That is why this statement is also uncheckable.

“18 of the 20 most read daily newspapers in Hungary are now owned by a single person, Orban’s childhood friend, neighbour, and favourite moneyman: Lőrinc Mészáros. Media pluralism is officially dead in Hungary.” This statement has been fact checked, and is considered uncheckable.

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