Still reeling from his failed referendum result a few weeks ago, Hungary’s despot Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, has been accused of enabling the suspension of Hungary’s main government opposition newspaper, Nepszabadsag.
Mediaworks, the company that purchased Nepszabadsag in 2014, announced that the readership of the newspaper had fallen by 74 per cent in the last 10 years and incurred debts of over 16 million Euros. However, opposition socialists say Nepszabadsag’s suspension was a “black day for the press” and have called for demonstrations outside its office.
Nepszabadsag has been one of Orban’s biggest critics and has boasted high sales right up until recently. Rumours are rife that Orban has orchestrated its closure in the wake of the newspaper’s campaign in the recent referendum on migrants. The newspaper published stories of scandals involving close friends of the Hungarian Prime Minister. Orban has also been accused of using the national media to extend his plans while ensuring that private outlets which show any opposition are bought over by his cash rich allies.
In what seems like a classic totalitarian move, the regime is ensuring that there will be no repeat of the campaign by the opposition in the recent referendum. This could be the first step to a complete shutdown of freedom of press.
The question is just how far can this go without the EU looking at the Hungarian government and the country’s membership in the Union? The argument may be that the people did indeed vote Orban and his gang in, but are they still operating under the same mandate? Or has it been yet another example of the extreme right using democracy as a front door key while letting in the darker elements of their ideology through the back door?
Given his previous attempts to curb freedom of press with his failed internet tax bill back in 2014, it doesn’t take a long stretch of the imagination to believe that this suspension is the work of the so-called strongman of Hungary. And if this is his work, what is next for Hungary? Are we going to see the first EU member state fall into a totalitarian regime while still being a member? If this was the case, what would the EU do, or what should it do? Should it cast the state aside, or can it risk a conflict by intervening? Does it even have a mandate to do so?
One thing is for sure is that they are claiming to be monitoring the situation closely. Spokesperson for the EU Commission, Margaritis Schinas, said this week that “we are of course following the situation closely. The Commission is aware of and concerned” and further stated that “media freedom, pluralism and the protection of journalists are at the very base of a free and democratic society.”
Let’s hope that democracy will still be there when the next general election is due and let’s hope that Orban and his cronies don’t find a way to extend their grip before then. It’s bad enough having to deal with despots outside of the Union without having to contend with smaller versions inside.