Since his public split in February with media mogul Lajos Simicska, following a series of government measures that apparently harmed Simicskaʼs media empire, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is looking for ways to increase his influence in the media before the 2018 elections, according to an article published by Reuters this morning.
The ruling Fidesz party’s two-third majority win in 2014 was due in large part to a strong media campaign, Reuters noted, adding that the private news outlets of Orbán’s long-standing friend Simicska were instrumental in garnering support for the Fidesz.
Now the media coverage Simicska was once responsible for is handled by three of Orbánʼs closest allies, including the leader of the Prime Minister’s Cabinet Office, Antal Rogán; Orbán’s unofficial advisor Árpád Habony; and government commissioner for the film industry Andrew G. Vajna, according to reports.
Vajnaʼs firm, Magyar Broadcasting Co. Kft., apparently beat out a close associate of Simicska, Károly Fonyó, in the purchase of Hungary’s second largest commercial television station TV2, though the legal battle continues.
Vajna has denied any connection between the Prime Minister’s media campaign and his effort to purchase TV2, according to a report published earlier in Hungarian daily Népszabadság.
Orbán’s unofficial advisor Habony owns Modern Media Group, which was launched last year and comprises two news portals – 888.hu and Lokal.hu – both of which are Fidesz friendly, as well as the associated weekly Lokál newspaper distributed for free and reportedly expected to assume the readership of Metropol published by Fonyó.
The third and possibly most important cog in the wheel, Rogán, is responsible for the government’s HUF 25 billion ($85.5 million) advertising budget, accounting for about 13% of Hungaryʼs overall advertising market, Reuters reported. The article said that Rogán uses his budget to ensure that media outlets give the government favorable coverage. “It takes knowing when to shut up, and 25 billion will influence that... If you shut up you can proceed to the cash desk,” an unnamed executive at a leading Hungarian TV station told Reuters.