For over a decade, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his ruling party, Fidesz, have been working diligently to tighten their control of the country’s media outlets and independent press.
Through the use of state advertising money, closures, and purchases of media outlets by proxies, the Hungarian government eliminated most of the unfavorable news and comment that was critical of it. In 2018, nearly 500 outlets were rolled into the Central European Press and Media Foundation (KESMA), a group headed by people close to the Fidesz party.
In March of last year, an ally of Fidesz purchased 50 percent of the company that manages Index’s advertising, Hungary’s at the time market-leading online news outlet. In July, Index’s editor-in-chief was fired, leading to mass resignations of Index staff. Then in September, the government agency responsible for media oversight declined to renew the license of the last major independent commercial radio station, Klubrádió, a news and talk station. Both Index and Klubrádió were critics of the government. Klubrádió appealed the decision to the courts, but on February 9th, a judge ruled against it. Klubrádió went off the air on February 14th, although it is still able to broadcast on the internet.
“Over the last few years, the Fidesz-controlled Media Council and the government have one-by-one blocked off every remaining avenue for Klubrádió to remain on air when its renewal was rejected for politically motivated decisions,” said International Press Institute director Scott Griffen.“The result was that, when the time finally came for Klubrádió's license to be renewed, its fate was all but sealed."
The United States is “deeply concerned about declining media pluralism in Hungary,” said State Department spokesperson Ned Price in a written statement. “The United States shares the concerns of international press freedom advocates and many Hungarians over the decline of media pluralism in Hungary.
“The United States believes that a diversity of independent voices and opinions is essential to democracy, and we urge the government of Hungary to promote an open media environment. The United States is committed to strengthening our partnership with Hungary, a NATO Ally, and advancing the Biden administration’s commitment to supporting democratic institutions, human rights, and the rule of law.”