European Journalists Seek Reprieve for Ground-Breaking Hungarian Daily Facing Closure

European journalists today called on Ringier Publishing Group, the Swiss media company, to grant a reprieve to one of Hungary’s most respected daily newspapers, Magyar Hirlap, which is threatened with closure and the loss of more than 80 jobs.

The Swiss publishers, which already owns the largest circulation news daily, the centre-left Nepszabadsag, the tabloid Blikk and sports daily Nemzeti Sport as well as a number of other magazines, say they are closing the paper for business reasons.

But the European Federation of Journalists, the regional group of the International Federation of Journalists has condemned the move saying it is evidence of how media concentration and extensive foreign ownership is damaging media pluralism.

“This newspaper is a flagship for press freedom in the region, winning support for its hard-hitting editorials and non-partisan journalism in a politicised newspaper market,” said Aidan White General Secretary of the EFJ. “Its closure would be a disaster for independent journalism in Hungary and around the region.”

The EFJ has received an urgent plea for support from the paper’s staff led by editor-in-chief Pal Szombathy who say the publisher has rejected a staff plan to takeover for a limited time the publishing rights of the paper in order to look for a possible new owner.

The staff has even undertaken to work without payment during this transitional period and said they will return all rights to Ringier if Magyar Hírlap cannot be saved.

“The failure to take up this offer shows a lack of concern for pluralism in Hungarian media,” said White. “Even at this late stage Ringier should do all they can to keep Magyar Hirlap alive.”

The fight to save the paper has been supported by politicians on both sides of the political arena, including former president Arpad Goncz, former Prime Minister Viktor Orban, and internationally reknowned personalities such as Nobel Prize-winner author Imre Kertesz and Oscar Prize-winner film director Istvan Szabo.

“Ringier must demonstrate that they are not playing marketing games with pluralism in Hungary by allowing a reprieve for Magyar Hirlap,” said White. The EFJ says that many observers are concerned that closing this much-respected traditional newspaper is a marketing exercise to provide further market penetration for its other publication, Népszabadság.

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The EFJ represents more than 200,000 journalists in over 40 countries