Apparently no longer satisfied with dominating the media in Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán seems to be trying to extend his control to media outlets in neighbouring countries. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said it is concerned to see that three Hungarian media groups linked to Orbán associates have just bought 45% of the shares in the privately-owned Slovenian 24-hour TV news channel Nova24TV.
Each of the three Hungarian companies, Modern Media Group (MMG), Ridikul Magazin and Ripost, has acquired a 15% stake in Nova24TV, whose capital has increased by 800,000 euros. Arpad Habony, Orbán’s leading political adviser, is reportedly behind the move. In the past, Habony helped create several Hungarian media groups including MMG, a loyal supporter of the ruling Fidesz party.
By coordinating the three separate acquisitions, Habony has managed to circumvent a Slovenian law under which the acquisition of more than 20% of the shares in a Slovenian media company requires the prior approval of the Slovenian authorities.
Ever since its launch in 2016, Nova24TV has been seen as the propaganda mouthpiece of the Slovenian Democratic Party, a conservative party led by former Prime Minister Janez Jansa, who has always praised Orbán and his policies. By backing Nova24TV financially, Orbán is also supporting an ally and is consolidating support in the region.
“As well as circumventing Slovenian law, this acquisition of a stake in Nova24TV by the Hungarian prime minister’s associates provides yet further evidence of his attempts to influence media content,” said Pauline Adès-Mevel, the head of RSF’s EU-Balkans desk. “Viktor Orbán’s sway now extends beyond Hungary’s borders and poses a real threat to media independence in Slovenia.”
The increasing authoritarianism of the Hungarian government, which recently adopted a controversial university law and now plans to target NGOs, has triggered the biggest wave of protests since Orbán’s return to power in 2010.
The latest major development in Orbán’s increasing dominance of Hungary’s own media was the opposition daily Népszabadság’s sudden closure in October 2016.
Hungary is ranked 67th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.