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The Népszabadság case – what it looks like.. from a local POV

Death or metamorphosis? R.I.P. or/and HBD?

The traditional left paper, Népszabadság has been shut down in a brute force manner*. In the following short article we'll just give you our impression from our local, outsider POV. We think that this case is extremely „interesting”, cause while being unprecedented, it also appears as though the powers were experimenting with a new model for future media-regulations in the former Eastern-bloc.

// the following thoughts, assertions (impressions) in this article are opinion //

Okay, about the „brute force manner”. The decision came even more harshly than out of the blue. People were locked out from their editorial, from one day to the next. This is not something that a reliable media corporation will do anywhere in the Western world. Delegates of the journalists, editors, union representatives had no-one to even negotiate with. So, this has totally been a shutdown of the most oppressive kind.

As for the appearance, they (the government) try to establish a narrative that sounds like „economical reasons, bad business, new measures, company reorganization”, something like that. This kind of narrative could easily be sold for the majority of a society (maybe not for the foreign press), however, the way that this government has been going about it makes it obvious that this has NOT been a natural economical crisis story at the end of which the shutdown came as the last resort. For this shutdown came out of the blue, and even worse, it came before (without) any news about the crisis and the possible solutions.

In a normal case, long before the shutdown, there would have been news about the bad health of the paper, also about its economical performance along a timeline, and possible measures that might come, possible scenarios involving selling it, etc etc. Think of Columbia Pictures before Sony acquired it. It didn't happen just overnight – like the shutdown of the Népszabadság. Not to mention that of all the possible crisis-treatments none were leaked out as possible plans, whatsoever. And because of this, the hand and the intervention of the government seems obvious. This is our impression.

To our impression, the owner of the paper, Mediaworks Zrt., has been acting like a bunch of amateurs, not like professionals who have ever seen a publishing company from inside. How could this be? What could explain this enormous anomaly from the expected behavior? If we have to guess, we could only imagine the invisible hand of power intervening, again, like it did some two years ago taking down the editor in chief, out of the blue, of a major left online medium, Origo (owned by Deutsche Telecom).

That case, analogously to Népszabadság's today, also seemed impossible, it seemed like no sane corporation would ever do that. But they did it, and life went on – cause there are only some 2 or three phone carriers i Hungary, and these corporations are just too big to be boycotted. They also do a lot of social involvements, sponsor a wide variety of things, their logos are everywhere, so a society stands zero chance to ever boycott a phone carrier, especially if it owns even the land lines. And social responses can be calculated easily. Possible scenarios are usually all analyzed before commitment to the act. They must have known before anything that they would come out of the fiasco clean and untouched.

Well, this is Hungary. This is something special about the CEE region which we refer to more and more often as the old Eastern-bloc these days. But what is this „specialty” made of?

  • multinational corporations are untouchable
  • press (and public opinion) can be taken to „manual control mode”, sometimes
  • money and power talk

In short, what we're facing here could be perhaps best described as the overpower of the power.

This incident with the Népszabadság has, however, some extremely exciting motifs, too. Obviously enough, the goverment, who's intervening hand is supposed to remain invisible, did not have the time to build up a proper plan of shutting down the Népszabadság. Had they had enough time, it would no way look like this mess they've made by disclosing their obviously mean intentions, and by their apparent attempts to go in a stealth (magically invisible) mode, and their big time failures in that.

Conclusion: again they acted emotionally, you know, the God Father style. Had it not been like this, the Népszabadság would have been taken down by course of several months, not overnight.

Conclusion: it appears that they (the invisible hands of the government) overcalculated their means and their effectiveness. They obviously had a false sense of security, too. Perhaps, like in an ancient Greek tragedy, it is now that they get a reward for what they did to Origo. Perhaps, it was their overwhelming success in removing the editor in chief of the Origo that now gave them this obviously false sense of security.

But in any case, knowingly or not, fueled by testosterone or not, they sure did not take one thing into account, namely, that Népszabadság was and is something special in the sky of Hungarian media. In the past 6-8 years, for example, Népszabadság almost consciously took on the role of being The Guardian of the Hungarian press scene. And they kept to it.

They represent quality, tradition and a unique cultural localism, „Hungarianism”, that is, they breathe in the same air as we who live here all do, while they keep to the highest standard of journalism, despite the fact that it's not widely established here, and they don't sink into the swamp of commercial tabloid publishing, like the vast majority of Hungarian press does. Népszabadság is not just one paper owned by some corporation but something that would have existed anyway, even without the business plans of any corporation or political party. Népszabadság is the core of organic Hungarian journalism, and although it is invisible to this government, this paper has immense power and immense acceptance. They have an exceptionally strong root in Hungarian culture and society.

Trying to take it down like this, in brute force manner (see their „hacked” home page), can no way prove successful. Speaking of which, there was this other Hungarian medium, a multinational corporation took down its editor in chief, back in 1999, or so, and the whole editorial left the corporation and they founded a new medium, which still exists and it's doing fairly well (

So, all in all, our impression is that what's proper to say about Népszabadság is not a R.I.P., but to the contrary, a „happy birthday!” –  which is quite due, actually, it was formed during the revolution in 1956, some almost exactly 60 years ago. After staring out as a party paper, and later beig a paper owned partly by a party (the successor of the original one), after being a tactical ally to the political "left", from 2006 to 2009, and after having achieved and maintained a high quality, independentish journalism, it might be just high time that The Hungarian Guardian was being born. So, we wish a happy birth for the new formation!


Címkék: Népszabadság

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