Pro-government circles mull Népszabadság relaunch

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Hungarian firm Opimus Press, widely reported to be close to government-friendly oligarch Lőrinc Mészáros, has purchased Mediaworks, publisher of recently silenced left-leaning daily newspaper Népszabadság. Opimus said in an announcement that it is considering a relaunch of the paper, which critics fear could be turned into a mouthpiece of the current government.

Opimus Press Zrt, which is owned by the Opimus Group, has purchased 100% of Mediaworks from Austriaʼs Vienna Capital Partners, according to an announcement issued on the Budapest Stock Exchange late yesterday. It was also reported that the Hungarian Competition Authority (GVH) yesterday approved the transaction, opening the way for the new owner to exercise its rights over the purchased publisher. 

A reaction to the news on the “Népszabi Szerkesztőség” Facebook page, which former editorial staff of the silenced paper created after they were shut out from the newspaper, noted that “nothing better demonstrates that Mediaworks, the owner of Népszabadság, has been taken over by circles close to the government than the fact that the buyer, Opimus Press Zrt, appointed two people to the media firmʼs board of directors on Tuesday who have so far been involved in managing the openly government-friendly daily newspaper Magyar Idők.”

The comment by the former editorial staff added that “the buyer of Népszabadságʼs publisher Mediaworks is regarded by the entire market as belonging to the interests of Lőrinc Mészáros, the mayor of Felcsút [the hometown of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán] and a Fidesz billionaire.”

Népszabadság, formerly Hungary’s biggest left-leaning paper, was unexpectedly closed down on October 8 in a decision that staff only learned about when they were denied entry to their editorial building. Former owner Mediaworks cited purely economic reasons for the closure of the paper, which had seen falling readership and losses in recent years. At the same time, critics of the move pointed to a number of sensitive reports Népszabadság had carried in recent times that were embarrassing for the current government, arguing that the paper was silenced for predominantly political reasons.

Asked about the deal by Reuters, Orbánʼs spokesman Bertalan Havasi said: "Opimus is an open, exchange-traded company. It has several owners and invests extensively. The government does not wish to comment on any Hungarian companyʼs investments."

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