The Hungarian media market has undergone a major transformation in the last decade, and Mérték Media Monitor has continuously tracked and analysed these changes. Our previous analyses have tracked in detail how the current situation has evolved, and hence in the following, we will only briefly refer to the most important developments that have shaped the broader processes. Since 2010, foreign media investors, who had been present in Hungary ever since the regime change, have left the country and sold their stakes in the Hungarian media to domestic owners with pro-government ties. In 2018, the Central European Press and Media Foundation (KESMA) was established, and in the same year almost all major pro-Fidesz media owners voluntarily transferred their companies to this foundation; KESMA did not pay them anything for the media companies it absorbed. The Orbán government, which has been in power since 2010 and is now on its fourth term, has changed the regulatory environment of the entire media market. At the same time, it has turned the public service media into a propaganda machine.
The aim of the following survey is to map patterns of local information and the state of local public discourse. We were especially interested in the challenges faced by media companies in the current political and economic environment, as well as potential policy changes that may be worth considering for municipally owned media, which tend to be the dominant players in local media markets. Our research features a distinct case study: the city of Debrecen, where an independent online newspaper operates alongside a large municipal media company. The presence of two alternative media players provides an opportunity to explore the very different perceptions of the role of journalism. Debrecen is also a good choice because, during the period of the study, a controversial battery factory construction project in the city received considerable public attention, and its coverage in the local media was illustrative of the way the local public discourse operates.
Our research was supported by the Human Rights Fund of the Netherlands Embassy.