Magyar Nemzet is considered to be the mouthpiece of Fidesz, at least by centrists and people left of center. If something appears in Magyar Nemzet, even if on the op/ed page, they are certain that it reflects official Fidesz policy. Just to give a recent example. A few days ago an op ed piece argued that the election of András Baka was not in the interest of Fidesz because, after all, the party can do "better than that" next year. From this one sentence people speculated that, just as they presumably had done the first time around, the Fidesz caucus would not vote for Baka. (I might add that yesterday Baka was elected with a large majority, 309 to 36, but that outcome might have been the result of a last-minute decision by the Fidesz leadership.)
The reason I am starting my blog with Magyar Nemzet is that it was Viktor Orbán's first triumph in building an ideologically sympathetic media empire. József Antall, the first Hungarian prime minister (1990-1993), had tried to have a "party paper," but his efforts were not successful; one right-wing paper after the other folded. By contrast, in the year 2000 Orbán effectively took over Magyar Nemzet, a newspaper with a proud past. It was established in 1938 by Sándor Pethő, a journalist who had worked for Magyarság. When, under new ownership, Magyarság moved to the far right, in the direction of the Hungarian variation of nationalism socialism, Pethő and some of his fellow journalists left and established Magyar Nemzet. It became the leading liberal-conservative anti-German paper in the country. As such it was forced to suspend publication temporarily several times; after the German occupation the Gestapo shut it down for the duration of the war. It resumed publication only on May 1, 1945, and remained a daily throughout the Rákosi regime. Of course, it couldn't publish anything that wouldn't be approved by the regime but it had a politically less strident voice. After 1954 Magyar Nemzet was clearly on the side of Imre Nagy, and during the revolution it acted as a semi-official paper of the Nagy government. As a result, it had to suspend publication once more, starting up again only in September 1957. During the Kádár period Magyar Nemzet had a bit more leeway in distinguishing itself from the official Népszabadság. It became the paper of the intelligentsia. At the end of the 1980s Magyar Nemzet stood firmly on the side of democratic change and was instrumental in the regime change that took place in 1989-1990.
After the change of regime Magyar Nemzet was considered to be an independent and moderate right of center paper. It received generous financial assistance from Postabank, which unfortunately eventually went bankrupt. The Orbán government rescued the bank. And with this rescue came the opportunity to reshape the Hungarian media. In order to remain financially solvent Magyar Nemzet was forced to merge with a much farther right-wing paper, Új Magyarország. Magyar Nemzet kept its name but not much else; most of its moderate jourrnalists were fired and replaced with the journalists of Új Magyarország. With this change of profile Magyar Nemzet lost some of its readership, but that was offset by mandatory government office subscriptions. In addition, government ads poured in to keep Magyar Nemzet afloat. As time went on, Magyar Nemzet developed a faithful readership. It still lags behind Népszabadság but now manages to stand on its own.
Inforádió, an all-news FM station, began broadcasting in October 2000. It is more moderate than Magyar Nemzet but definitely right of center. Its political usefulness is limited, however, because it can be heard only within a radius of about eighty kilometers around Budapest and on the Internet.
The big breakthrough in expanding right-wing media was the appearance of Hír TV on January 2, 2003. Initially it was severely undercapitalized, founded by a company with only 20 million forints in the till. The CEO of the company was Gábor Borókai, former spokesman for the Orbán government. Obviously a television station couldn't operate on a budget of 20 million forints; in February 2003 three individuals put up an additional 350 million forints. In March 2004 there was a change in ownership. A former member of the board, István Töröcskei, together with two companies acquired the television station. For the next few months there were personnel changes at the top in rapid succession. In October 2004 Gábor Liszkai, the owner and editor-in-chief of Magyar Nemzet, also took over Hír TV. In 2007 Liszkai's empire expanded: Hír TV and Magyar Nemzet started a radio station called Lánchíd Rádió.
Hír TV's orientation is decidedly right radical. Typical of its objectionable reporting was its coverage of the storming of the Magyar Televízió (MTV) building when the reporter compared the hoolingans' attack on the television station to the revolution of 1956. There are devoted Fidesz voters who watch nothing but Hír TV, so their view of the world is one-dimensional. As critics from the other side claim, these people live in a virtual country.
A newspaper, a radio station, and a television station within three short years is quite a feat. And this was just the beginning. Since then a rich Hungarian who doesn't seem to know what to do with his money started another right-wing newspaper and television station. But more about them tomorrow.