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Hungary's left-wing paper suspended days after breaking news

A newsstand including Saturday papers with Nepszabadsag daily is pictured in Budapest, Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016. Headline of Nepszabadsag reads: "Orban not bothered by helicoptering". It refers to a scandal uncovered by Nepszabadsag about the extravagant travel habits of a top minister in the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban. (AP Photo/Andras Nagy)
October 08, 2016 - 10:08 AM

BUDAPEST, Hungary - Hungary's largest left-wing political newspaper has suspended publication because of "considerable" losses, its owners said Saturday. The move was condemned by opposition parties across the political spectrum, all accusing Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government of trying to extend its dominance over the media.

Mediaworks it was searching for the "best business model" for the Nepszabadsag paper, offering subscribers alternative publications or refunds. The company did not say when the newspaper might reappear but said it wants to "preserve Nepszabadsag for the future."

Mediaworks said the paper lost more 5 billion forints ($18.4 million) since 2007 and was generating "a considerable net loss" so far this year.

Journalists at the newspaper said they weren't given advance notice and described the suspension of the paper's print and online editions as a "coup."

"The Nepszabadsag newsroom found out at the same time as the public that the newspaper had been shut down effective immediately," journalists wrote on the paper's Facebook page. "Our first thought is that it's a coup. We'll be in touch soon."

Many questioned the timing of the suspension. In the past few days, the paper had broken several stories highlighting suspicions of corruption. Among them were the extravagant travel arrangements of a senior government minister and a personal scandal involving the president of the National Bank of Hungary.

"The total undermining of Nepszabadsag is the latest example of Viktor's Orban's megalomania," said Adam Mirkoczi, spokesman of the far-right Jobbik party. "The only aim of Fidesz is to either gain 100 per cent control over Hungarian media or to obstruct it."

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 Orban's inner circle and then taking on a noticeable pro-government bent.

"My modest opinion is that it's high time for Nepszabadsag to unexpectedly shut down," said Szilard Nemeth, vice chairman of Orban's governing Fidesz party, alluding to the newspaper's communist-era roots.

There had been considerable speculation that Nepszabadsag and other Mediaworks publications will be sold to one or the other of Orban's allies. Ad expenditures from government and state-owned enterprises, an important revenue source for media, have notably favoured publications toeing the government line.

Mediaworks, owned by private equity firm Vienna Capital Partners, controls a large sector of the Hungarian print media market, including the Vilaggazdasag business daily and the Nemzeti Sport sports daily. Last year, it acquired the 27.7 per cent stake in Nepszabadsag that had been owned by a foundation set up by the Socialist Party, the country's largest leftist opposition group. Last week, the company announced the acquisition of regional newspapers in 12 counties.

The leftist Together party said Orban moved to get the paper suspended because investigative journalism stood in his way.

"With this action, the Orban regime's battle against freedom of the press has reached its peak," said Together chairman Viktor Szigetvari.

Nepszabadsag, launched in 1956 and under the control of Hungary's ruling communist party until 1989, has a circulation of around 40,000, down from around 115,000 in 2008 and 270,000 in 1995.

News from © The Associated Press, 2016
The Associated Press

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