dragomir3_ATTILA KISBENEDEKAFP via Getty Images_klubradio hungary Attila Kisbenedek/AFP via Getty Images

The Media-Capture Epidemic

Since returning to power in 2010, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has waged a scorched-earth campaign against his country's independent media, seizing control of most outlets and leaving those that remain cowering on the sidelines. Worse, other autocrats have taken notice.

BUDAPEST – The Hungarian Media Council’s decision last September not to renew the broadcast license of Klubradio, the country’s last remaining opposition radio station, surprised no one. The council did not bother to offer corroboration for its claims that Klubradio repeatedly violated media laws, nor did anyone expect it to. The episode is merely the latest installment in the Hungarian government’s long-running campaign against independent media.

The onslaught began immediately after the 2010 general election, when Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his right-wing Fidesz party returned to power. The government immediately adopted a raft of laws imposing new restrictions on media outlets, and established the loyalist-staffed Media Council to enforce them. Within a year or so, all independent journalists who had worked in public media had been ousted, and the public broadcaster became a government mouthpiece.

Since then, Fidesz has steadily tightened its grip on Hungarian media. Through a clutch of supportive oligarchs, the party has seized control of major television and radio stations, news portals, and print media publishers. And in late 2018, Orbán-aligned oligarchs established the Central European Press and Media Foundation, which now serves as a holding company for some 500 media entities.