2016-10-17 16:18:00

Hungarians rally to demand press freedom after paper's closure

(Vatican Radio) Thousands of people rallied on Sunday in Hungary's capital Budapest for press freedom and against government corruption after the sudden closure of the country's largest leftist newspaper. 

Listen to the report by Stefan Bos

Those attending a rally organized by civic groups and opposition parties gathered at Free Press Road, a traditional location for protests but made more symbolic by last week's closure of the largest opposition newspaper Népszabadság (People's Freedom). 

While the owner, publishing company Mediaworks, says last week's closure followed "considerable" losses and falling readership, critics maintain the government pressured it to close down.  

Though talks have been held about restarting the paper, Miklós Hargitai, a Népszabadság journalist, told protesters that he feared everyone will now lose their jobs. "Seventy people worked at the Népszabadság. Their future is in danger, despite the fact that not everyone was involved in politics. We won't let it happen," he said. 
He also claimed that Prime Minister Viktor Orbán's government was the only one since the 1990 end of the communist regime "which doesn't tolerate any control or criticism, not even questions" and said the Hungarian leader did not given an interview to the paper in 10 years.


It comes amid wider international concerns about a perceived crackdown on critical media in Hungary, which is ruled by a right-wing government which pushed through a controversial media law.  

The opposition says Hungary's media landscape has changed considerably in the last few years, with many print and online publications as well as radio and television stations coming under the control of Orbán's inner circle and showing an unquestioning pro-government line. 

Opposition media have also complained that companies were allegedly pressured by the government not to advertise with them 
while state advertisements, another source of revenue, were removed and placed in more pro-government outlets.  

Yet Prime Minister Orbán's Fidesz party has denied wrongdoing. It insisted that the closure of the leftist Népszabadság newspaper, which existed since 1956, was purely a financial decision. 

It also blamed the Socialist Party, one of whose foundations sold its minority stake to current owner Mediaworks last year, for its failure.

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