Following the landslide victory of the ruling Fidesz party in April 2022, leading to a fourth consecutive term for Viktor Orbán as Prime Minister, many media outlets have started downsizing, with some major titles ceasing print publication.
In the Hungarian media market 2022 was a turbulent year. With runaway inflation, cost-cutting measures were introduced by many media companies. Following the elections, pro-government media conglomerate KESMA, the owner of over 400 titles, closed some of its smaller publications, downsized staffing at several others, and ended the print publication of major titles including long-running finance daily Világgazdaság, the weekly Figyelő, launched in 1958, and ‘patriotic tabloid’ Ripost. It sold ‘Viktor Orbán’s favourite newspaper’, sports daily Nemzeti Sport, to the state and in early 2023 merged its opinion portal 888.hu with Origo.hu. Pro-government broadsheet Magyar Hírlap, published since 1968, went online only, while government-friendly television channel Pesti TV folded. Several media outlets not clearly aligned with the government have also cut costs. Weekly 168 Óra and free Pesti Hírlap ceased print publication, and news portal Azonnali.hu, owned by an opposition MP, closed. On the plus side, RTL and TV2 both launched new online streaming platforms, RTL+ and TV2 Play Premium, respectively, with exclusive content for subscribers.
The closure of media outlets just after the elections suggests a view of the media as a political instrument. It also signals a shift towards social media, used by 61% in Hungary, in Fidesz’s media strategy. Megafon Centre, a conservative social media incubator that trains pro-government influencers and promotes their posts, has been pushing the government’s narratives to Hungarian Facebook users’ feeds. Megafon was also one of the biggest spenders on political ads on Facebook in the election campaign,1 urging citizens to vote for Fidesz. It claims to be funded by private donors.
Yet traditional media are also seen as playing an important role in the 2022 Fidesz election victory. The OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights election monitoring mission reported that: 'the pervasive bias in the news and current-affairs programs of the majority of broadcasters monitored … combined with extensive government advertising campaigns provided the ruling party with an undue advantage.’2
State advertising continues to distort the media market, channelling public funds to pro-government media and starving independent outlets of advertising revenue. Four independent weeklies are planning to sue the government over discriminatory ad purchasing.
In July the European Commission took the government to court over the Media Council’s 2021 decision to force one of the last independent radio stations, Klubrádió, off the air. Hungary’s oldest community radio Tilos Rádió nearly faced the same fate when the authority refused to renew its licence. After a three-week hiatus, Tilos Rádió was back on air in September. The Commission also referred Hungary to court over the 2021 law that bans content ‘promoting’ homosexuality to minors.
Media ownership and funding were dominant topics in public debate. Following revelations that the opposition parties may have received campaign funds from abroad, government politicians, the pro-government media, and influencers launched smear campaigns against independent media outlets that have received foreign funding. These media outlets, including Telex and Átlátszó, are labelled ‘dollar media’ and are accused of serving ‘foreign interests’.
Reporting on Russia’s war in Ukraine has been controversial, with many seeing Hungary as ‘the EU capital of Russian disinformation’.3 Although the media authority found that major television channels reported on the war objectively, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union and think tank Political Capital filed a complaint with the European Commission, claiming that the public media kept citing Russian propaganda channels RT and Sputnik even after they were banned in the EU.
With public discussions of the ‘dollar media’ and Russian disinformation, it is not surprising that trust in news has decreased to just 25%. Hungary now ranks 45th out of the 46 countries in the Digital News Report. Not only has trust decreased, but a drop was registered in most media outlets’ reach (though some of it may be related to a change in survey methodology). Once-independent, now pro-government Index.hu and independent 24.hu remain the top online news sources, now followed by pro-government Origo.hu. In its second full year of operation, independent Telex is the fourth most often used online news source. For offline, independent RTL’s reach fell but it remains the most frequently used news source (41%), with TV2 trailing far behind (27%).
Judit Szakács and Éva Bognár
Central European University
We introduced education quotas for the first time in Hungary as part of our programme to make data more representative of national populations. As a result, 2023 data will be more accurate but not always directly comparable with previous years.
Pay for online news
Trust in news overall
Trust in news I use
Overall trust in news is very low. Right-wing respondents tend to trust the news more than those on the left (36% and 28%, respectively). The independent outlets HVG and RTL remain most trusted, and distrust at the brand level is quite high. Almost half the respondents said they did not trust the PSB MTV.