In a sudden move that surprised no one, Lőrinc Mészáros (Orbán’s top oligarch and rumored front) announced that he gifted his extensive media holdings to the media conglomerate Central European Press and Media Foundation (CEPMF). And he was not alone, other oligarchs also arrived on the very same conclusion on the very same day. Other media outlets offered themselves for sale to CEPMF.
CEPMF will thus publish 476 (!) titles – including TV, radio, online and print papers – control 476 news rooms, and it will be lead by an Orbán loyalist. It will also be Europe’s biggest media holding.
The media council could, of course, still block the merger…
LOL, just kidding, it won’t. They were specifically created – not for open censorship, but – to allow Orbán to gobble up the media market, while blocking anyone else from buying anything with whatever lame excuse they could come up with. Four loyalist member form the council and they just happen to vote in Orbán’s favor every time.
And the name is no accident either. Calling it “Central European” rather than “Hungarian” (or just “national“) is probably a hint of future consolidations to come. Orbán has been active in neighboring and Balkan countries’ elections and media markets for some time, it wouldn’t be terribly surprising if those “owners” would also “gift” their holdings to CEPMF one day. After all, a working (for the autocrat) model must be emulated.
The ownership structure of Orbán’s media hasn’t been very diverse to begin with. Before yesterday’s announcement, titles were held by only 3 major oligarchs and the 4th was the state.
After the CEPMF announcement, the ownership will be overwhelmingly in just one holding:
The resulting conglomerate will publish 476 titles, creating the single biggest media empire in Europe, if all is what it looks like. And it doesn’t try to look anything less than a complete consolidation of media in the hands of an autocrat, Orbán had stopped pretending this April, after he awarded himself with another unlimited majority in parliament.
Rumors about Orbán’s irritation with his media oligarchs have preceded this move. To no one’s surprise (only Orbán’s, apparently), his oligarchs were acting like they were actual owners and wasting serious money while at it. Waste and corruption are expected of them, make no mistake, but they were apparently stealing more than their allocated corruption allowance (which is calculated into public procurement as well as fronting for Orbán).
The new boss of the Orbán media is an old loyalist, Gábor Liszkay, who earned his stripes in the early 2000s by playing valuable titles from his employers into Fidesz’ circles of interest, getting fired for it, and then running the above mentioned titles aggressively according to the Party line. His boss and handler used to be Orbán’s previous top oligarch and almighty economic grey eminence, Lajos Simicska, who had, however, publicly broken up with Orbán in 2014 – putting Liszkay in a tight corner: he was Simicska’s man, but he also wanted to run with the winner.
Liszkay never made ‘right wing’ press in the first place – he always made ‘pro-Fidesz’ press. And when the two things diverged, he started to make ‘pro-Orbán’ press.
After a brief stint of running an Orbán-critical, right wing paper under Simicska (who kept his media interests for a while after the breakup to use them against Orbán) Liszkay managed to get back on the winning horse by shutting down his own papers and pledged loyalty to Orbán. We don’t know what exactly happened, but Simicska called him a traitor – and Liszkay received a TV channel immediately. He started his reign by kicking out out journalists who didn’t have enough “humility” and turned the TV pro-Orbán in a heartbeat. He is now taking over everything.
In typical Orbánist fashion CEPMF will be “nonprofit” – which is funny because Orbán can make profit a dirty word while simultaneously enjoying the support of misguided Western conservatives and pro-business groups.
Whatever they mean by nonprofit one can only guess. What we know for sure is that Mészáros was better at acquiring these media holdings than running them and readership melted away visibly during his short reign as legal owner. Fortunately for him (and the other oligarchs who bought media and turned it into propaganda mouthpieces) the government came to the rescue with billions and billions of taxpayer money on “government information” campaigns – hate campaigns trashing the EU, scapegoating George Soros and demonizing migration.
The resulting information control by Orbán is no less complete than any dictator’s in history – and it was achieved by purely legal and economic means. Not much censorship – mainly voluntary compliance and working towards the leader. And not much legal wrangling – mostly just hostile takeovers and blocking anyone else from buying media in Hungary.
The model is being exported as we speak – don’t be terribly surprised when your own Orbán-admiring political criminals try to emulate it.