Mediaworks, the former publisher of Népszabadság, the leading left-leaning daily newspaper abruptly shut down on October 8, violated the Hungarian Labor Code when it failed to consult employees’ representatives before deciding to close the paper, a Budapest court ruled Thursday in the first instance, according to the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (TASZ).
The Hungarian Labor Code stipulates that fifteen days prior to any action taken by an employer that affects a large group of employees, the opinion of the companyʼs works council needs to be sought, TASZ reported. According to the first-instance ruling of the court, Mediaworks failed to do this before shutting the paper down on October 8.
During the proceedings, Mediaworks defended its stance by saying that the decision on the shutdown was made by the supervisory board of the company, with the board of directors exercising employeesʼ rights in merely executing the decision, TASZ said. However, as the board of directors was notified about the decision only on October 7, just one day before the shutdown, asking for the opinion of the works council was “physically impossible,” TASZ noted.
Just a few days after hastily shutting down the paper, without even informing journalists, publisher Mediaworks was reported to have sold its portfolio to Hungarian firm Opimus Press, which has been widely reported to be close to government-friendly oligarch Lőrinc Mészáros. For his part, Mészáros has since denied involvement with the firm.
Mediaworks shut down Népszabadság for what it claimed were economic reasons, though journalists and the opposition have described the decision as purely political, after the paper carried sensitive articles about politicians affiliated with governing party Fidesz.