BUDAPEST, Hungary – A Hungarian cable news and talk channel has been sold to an ally of the prime minister, the broadcaster's founder said Friday.
Industrialist Gabor Szeles said he sold Echo TV to a company owned by Lorinc Meszaros, a village mayor whose business empire has expanded greatly with the help of state contracts.
In an interview published Friday in Magyar Hirlap, his own newspaper, Szeles said Meszaros was a guarantee that Echo TV would keep its right-wing political focus.
"Echo is the channel closest to the government, fitting the spirit" of Prime Minister Viktor Orban's Fidesz party and its Christian Democrat allies, Szeles said. "With the 2005 launch and operation of Echo TV, I think I completed the mission I undertook to assist the success of the right."
Szeles said the channel could be seen in 2.8 million of Hungary's 4.1 million households and suggested 1 million more could be added if Echo TV were to be included in the basic, free packages offered by cable service providers.
Szeles estimated that Meszaros needs to invest 1.5 billion forints ($5.1 million) in new cameras and other technical equipment to modernize the channel. Echo TV could strengthen its competition for viewers with Hir TV, another news channel that is right-leaning but that has increased critical coverage of the government since its owner had a falling-out with Orban last year.
A company linked to Meszaros, a former gas fitter listed as the 28th richest Hungarian by Forbes magazine, recently bought a major newspaper and magazine publisher, increasing concerns about media diversity and government influence over Hungarian media.
Opimus Press, the company linked to Meszaros, purchased Mediaworks Hungary from its Austrian owner in October, just weeks after Mediaworks abruptly shut down Nepszabadsag, the main opposition newspaper.
Since then, Mediaworks has placed editors and journalists supportive of the Orban government in key positions.
Meszaros has attributed his success partly to his friendship with Orban, who has stressed the aim of increasing Hungarian ownership of local media outlets owned by foreign companies.
Pro-government media outlets have benefited from substantial state advertising funds even though many do not audit their circulation or viewership figures.