The traditional media landscape of Hungary is changing. Print media is on a downward spiral; even financially stable pro-government newspapers and magazines are being closed. On the digital front, independent media outlets are forced to either go partially behind paywalls, or to ask for audience contributions through crowdsourcing or personal donations, organising paid events and so on. Podcasts and video content are on the rise in the country. The Roma community (almost one million people) is still underserved.
in the Directory
Press freedom in Hungary remained in bad shape in 2022. State media is used as the government’s propaganda tool, and a pro-government conglomerate dominates the market, as noted by Reporters Without Borders in its Press Freedom Index. This media empire takes instruction from Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s government. Although the landscape is distorted, independent digital native media outlets still exist and maintain significant positions in the market, despite being subject to political, economic and regulatory pressures. Hungary is the only European Union member state suspected of having arbitrarily monitored journalists using Pegasus software, notes Reporters Without Borders.
Market structure and dominance
The Hungarian media market is dominated by the pro-government Közép-Európai Sajtó és Média Alapítvány (KESMA – Central European Press and Media Foundation), which owns about 500 national and local media organisations. Most foreign owners have left Hungary; the ones that have stayed, like the German-owned commercial TV station RTL, have more freedom, notes the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism in its Digital News Report 2022. Television still plays an important role in the country, but independent digital native media outlets (24.hu, 444.hu, Telex are among the biggest) are still strong, despite financial difficulties which they try to overcome through crowdsourcing campaigns, paywalls and donations. Print and legacy media organisations are losing their positions even in the countryside, where they are traditionally stronger than in the capital Budapest.
How media is funded
State media is generously funded in Hungary, with a budget of HUF 130 billion (EUR 350.6 million). Pro-government media organisations are predominantly financed by state and commercial advertising and owned by KESMA and businesspeople close to the government. Independent media organisations’ predominant revenue source is commercial advertising, but crowdfunding, paywalls, audience donations and grants play an increasingly important role.
“We are under pressure from the state, which makes it harder to work year after year, month after month. Imagine a room where the oxygen is being slowly but constantly sucked out,” says a journalist from Nyugat.hu, a regional market leader in the western part of Hungary.
Fifteen profiles of digital native media organisations from Hungary are included in the directory. This includes 13 profiles based on interviews and two profiles based on desk research.
Clearly, the country’s media landscape is transitioning: print and traditional media are losing pace, while digital native media outlets are gaining momentum. Television as a news source has been overtaken by social media, especially Facebook, with almost 60% of the population gathering news from the social network. Other social media platforms (Instagram, TikTok) are also on the rise. Newsletters and podcasts are getting more popular for digital native media organisations. Almost all the media organisations Project Oasis talked to have at least one newsletter (and sometimes several thematic ones), or are planning to start one soon.
Podcasts are also on the rise, and are seen as excellent tools for creating and promoting content. Investigative site Direkt36 is using podcasts to promote and give background to its stories, Válasz Online is using podcasting to create new weekly content, while 24.hu has several podcasts, covering topics from sports to politics.
Financially, although advertising remains important, independent digital native media outlets have also been forced to find alternative streams of revenue. These include grants, crowdsourcing, personal donations, paid events and subscriptions. “Community building is the most important for us, and our readers and subscribers don’t like ads. So we decided to limit the number of advertisements on Válasz Online,” says András Bódis, Válasz Online’s publishing director.
Partnerships among independent digital native media outlets are more typical in the countryside. A dozen media organisations created a site (Szabad Hírek) which gathers all their news together in one place.
Almost all media leaders have mentioned centralised communication and a lack of information from the government and state institutions as one of the most critical problems they face during their work. Government politicians very rarely give interviews to independent media outlets. Online harassment and threats against independent journalists are also common.
Despite all these hardships, independent media outlets survive in Hungary. Local news site Debreciner’s credo sums it up well – it wants to create a publication that “provides room for all opinions that speak honestly about public affairs, and where those who are silenced elsewhere can speak out”.
Last updated: January 2023