When the Central European Press and Media Foundation (abbreviated as KESMA in Hungarian) was created in November 2018, everyone was curious to find out how massive the ownership concentration in the market had become as a result of the emergence of such a huge conglomerate, and how strong the position of government-friendly media companies was in the market overall. Finally, the numbers are in – and they exceed our worst expectations.
There are various methodologies for measuring ownership concentration in the market but there is no consensus as to which is best. An obvious challenge is that there are few media outlets that do nothing but inform about politics and disseminate political/public affairs contents. Especially among the major players in the market, most also feature entertainment contents but normally these have little impact on public discourse. This is especially true when the company in question is a media corporation with a broad portfolio, for example a newspaper publisher that owns a political newspaper as well as hobby magazines. In Hungary, measuring ownership concentration is also encumbered by the fact that there is no public access to the database that features the audience reach of all individual media products (readership, listeners, viewers and online visitors). In the past years, the situation was further hampered by the fact that the various media have distinct strategies in place to reach audiences, their effectiveness in disseminating their messages is highly varied, which makes it rather difficult to track how much of a public impact they have.
Nevertheless, by using data on revenue from sales we can arrive at an estimate of how dominant pro-government media are in the market for news and public affairs coverage. Looking at the entire media market, we considered those major companies that own some nationally-known brand in the political information market. In light of the fact that for the time being we only had access to revenue data from 2017, we relied on these for our calculations, but we only considered companies that still existed in the market in November 2018, the time when the Central European Press and Media Foundation (KESMA) was established.
Among the newspapers in the media market, we looked at political dailies and weeklies, regional/county newspapers, tabloids and the freely distributed newspaper Lokál. In the radio segment of the market, we considered the nationally broadcasting private station (Retro), as well as the Rádió1 network, which effectively has a national coverage through the stations that make up the network, as well as the three well-known political talk radios, Klubrádió, Info Rádió and Karc FM (neither of the latter has a national reach). In the television market, we looked at the data of the two major private television channels, RTL Klub and TV2, and also at the three political channels, ATV, Hír TV and Echo TV. We did not consider the public media channels in calculating the relevant figures for either the radio or the television sector because there is no publicly available information whatsoever on the share of radio and television broadcasting in the budget of the public media holding company MTVA (the Media Service Support and Asset Management Fund). Measuring the online market proved most difficult because there are hundreds of online news sources and the traditional media brands also feature their own online platforms. To methodologically simplify this complex situation, we looked at the four major news sites that are active in disseminating political coverage (Index, Origo, 24.hu, 444.hu – the popular hvg.hu, which is affiliated with the eponymous print magazine, was assigned to the print segment as part of the HVG brand).
Based on financial data from 2017, the overview below shows how large the share of pro-government companies was as compared to the total revenue of media outlets in the given media segment.
In the table above, the KESMA plus other pro-government media category included companies that are either formally a part of the KESMA or, failing that, have owners who are openly aligned with the government. This includes Rádió1 and TV2, which were still held by the late government commissioner Andrew Vajna at the time when the KESMA was created (Vajna died in January 2019), as well as the weekly Demokrata, which is owned by András Bencsik, and the daily Magyar Hírlap, owned by the oligarch Gábor Széles. Both Bencsik and Széles are renowned for their close ties to Fidesz, which both of them openly profess, too.
Looking at the news and public affairs segment of the media market without including the public media, we can see that based on revenue alone KESMA’s share is nearly 39% but if we also consider the other pro-government players, this ratio rises to 64%. What accounts for most of the massive difference between these two figures is the impact of TV2, which is the largest pro-government media company in terms of total revenue.
The situation is even more extreme if we consider the impact of the public media, whose intense commitment to disseminating nothing but the pro-government viewpoint is well-documented.
The previous breakdown by media sectors does not include public service media since the data released by the MTVA do not reveal how much they spent on radio or television broadcasting. Looking at the aggregate data for the media industry overall, however, allows us to take into consideration the data of the public service media, which will naturally lead to a substantial rise in the size of the news and public affairs segment of the media market. The MTVA’s budget for 2017 was 94 billion forints (roughly 300 million euros), and if we calculate the relevant ratios on the basis of these figures, the pro-government dominance becomes even more pronounced. Adding up the relevant figures for the KESMA, the manifestly pro-government media outside the KESMA and the public service media, the total pro-Fidesz portfolio encompasses 77.8% of the entire news and public affairs segment.
Our calculations are subject to some caveats which one needs to keep in mind when interpreting these figures. We calculated the underlying numbers based on the KESMA portfolio at the time when the foundation was launched in November 2018. But this portfolio has changed since with the closing of Echo TV, and further changes may be impending. An important consideration is that we were only able to calculate the revenue data for 2017, but the figures for 2018 will also be out soon since the companies must publish their annual financial reports by the end of May. These are unlikely to have a major impact on our calculations, however.
More importantly, one must also keep in mind that the effective reach of the Fidesz-friendly media is greater still if we consider two further facts. For one, the news block edited by the MTVA is also broadcast on many independent stations. Although the MTVA does not publish any figures concerning the exact number of radios that play its news, this practice – which was introduced just a few years ago – continues to work and the centrally-edited news services reach a vast number of radio listeners all across Hungary. Furthermore, our calculations also did not include any local media, which are typically owned by the municipal government. In significant portions of the country the ownership control of the local government means that the media outlets in question unabashedly parrot the government’s communication. If we also consider these two factors, then the Fidesz dominance in the news and public affairs market may in fact be substantially larger than the figure of 78% that we arrived at in our calculations.
The detailed calculation will be available in Mérték’s Soft Censorship report, which is due to be published soon.