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Government recaptures Magyar Nemzet brand

Magyar Nemzet, the conservative daily newspaper originally launched in 1938 which briefly adopted an editorial line against the present government, before being shut down by its then owner after last yearʼs elections, has relaunched as a pro-government publication replacing Magyar Idők, according to multiple reports.

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán reads the first issue of the relaunched pro-government paper (photo: Orbánʼs official Facebook page)

According to an announcement on the website of Magyar Idők, the strongly pro-government daily is rebranding as Magyar Nemzet from today, February 6, 2019. The magyaridok.hu site will continue to function only as an archive, while the relaunched pro-government Magyar Nemzet is now accessible online at magyarnemzet.hu.

While initially supportive of the Fidesz-led government on its ascent to power in 2010, Magyar Nemzet changed its editorial line in 2015 when its owner, businessman Lajos Simicska, a long-time friend and ally of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán who had also served as Fidesz treasurer, had a much-publicized falling-out with the prime minister. Magyar Nemzet subsequently appeared on newsstands as an opposition newspaper, as part of a set of media interests within Simicskaʼs sphere of influence.

However, immediately after general elections last April at which the government regained its two-thirds majority, Simicska promptly announced the closure of the paper, together with other media interests.

“Looking at sheer data, Magyar Nemzet ceased to exist again on April 11, 2018, but in reality it fell on February 6, 2015, when the paper simply shed and denied its own past,” the relaunched Magyar Nemzet said in an editorial article. The cited date refers to the aforementioned falling-out on so-called “G-Day,” when Simicska turned against Orbán, throwing his money and influence into the support of the opposition. Doubtless not by accident, the latest reincarnation of Magyar Nemzet is launched exactly on the fourth anniversary of “G-Day” (the “G” being in reference to a well-known vulgar insult Simicska directed at his former friend).

According to an article on magyaridok.hu published Tuesday, the editor-in-chief of the new Magyar Nemzet will be Attila Ballai, who worked at Magyar Nemzet before its 2015 change of editorial line. Magyar Időkʼs editor-in-chief Ottó Gajdics will become editor-in-chief of weekly newspaper Szabad Föld.

Head of pro-govʼt media conglomerate resigns

In related media news, István Varga, president of Közép-Európai Sajtó és Média Alapítvány (the Central European Press and Media Foundation), the centralized pro-government media conglomerate set up last November, resigned on Monday evening.

A former Fidesz MP, Varga announed his resignation within hours of giving an interview to regional news site behir.hu, in which he openly criticized the quality of pro-government media and revealed his preference for independent or pro-opposition press products that are otherwise strongly critical of the current regime.

Despite describing himself as “Christian, conservative, and pro-government,” Varga admitted that he prefers to read left-leaning papers such as Magyar Narancs and Népszava if he seeks “well-penned articles and commentary,” while also indicating that he turns to the opposition-leaning index.hu, rather than the pro-government origo.hu, when reading news online.

“Despite the fact that 30 years have elapsed since the change of system, I do not see many adherents of Christian, national, conservative journalism, while discerning journalists who write well - with no offence meant, I can quite plainly state - I see more on the other side,” index.hu cited Varga as saying.

The owners of a vast majority of Hungaryʼs pro-government media outlets donated their companies to the Central European Press and Media Foundation in November, creating a huge right-wing centralized media conglomerate. The foundationʼs assets include cable news channels, internet news portals, tabloid and sports newspapers, and all of Hungaryʼs county newspapers, several radio stations and numerous magazines, among others.

In a controversial move, Orbán subsequently signed a decree exempting the media conglomerate from scrutiny by media or competition authorities, argung that the merger of over 450 pro-government media outlets under a giant umbrella organization was a move of “strategic importance at a national level.”