Observers of the Hungarian media situation have often remarked in recent
years that it cannot get any worse. It was difficult to imagine that the state of democratic public sphere could deteriorate further in an EU member state. At the same time, however, our experience shows that there is no objective limit to how far media freedom can be dismantled, which also makes it impossible to claim that at any given time we have now definitely reached an actual low-point and that things cannot possibly get worse still. Experience has taught that it can. Just as our report last year, the current Soft Censorship report does not provide a cross-sectional overview of the entire media market; instead, we home in on a few vitally important issues for the media market.
The stifling climate in Hungarian today clearly influences how much room there is for the free operation of independent media. As our own survey of journalists reveals, those in the profession experience pressure in their work in a variety of forms. Naturally, Hungary cannot be compared to those dictatorships where journalists are exposed to immediate threats to their lives, but at the same time it is also true that compared to democratic countries, they face a wide variety of limitations. This clearly has a detrimental and restrictive impact on the public sphere, and our research highlights the vulnerable and tough position of Hungarian journalism.
Our research on the distribution of print newspapers, which was based on in-depth interviews, is unique in its focus. The print newspaper market has not been discussed much in recent years, and more specifically no one has looked at the difficulties in accessing print newspapers. Yet, consumers experience every day that it is nigh impossible to procure independent newspapers in smaller municipalities, which has emerged as a major contributing factor in further deepening Hungary’s massive urban-rural divide. Drawing on in-depth interviews, we look at this phenomenon in detail in our chapter on newspaper distribution.
The year 2018 will definitely go down in Hungarian media history as the year when ownership concentration grew most spectacularly. The creation of the Central European Press and Media Foundation (abbreviated as KESMA in Hungarian) has exerted a profound impact on the ownership structures in the Hungarian media industry. The impact of this major transformation was exacerbated by the distortion of the media market stemming from the state’s highly tendentious advertising spending practices, which we have been tracking and analysing for years now.
The creation of KESMA would also not have been possible without the government’s creative interventions in the relevant regulatory framework to ensure that nothing would stand in the way of the increased market concentration.
Overall, our report provides an overview of how the distorted media system of an illiberal regime is being built step-by-step within the European Union. The sixth volume in the series of Soft Censorship reports serves to continuously document this process by presenting the systematic transformation of the Hungarian public sphere.
Mertek Booklets 18: Centralised Media System