Of the many challenges facing journalism this World Press Freedom Day, media capture stands out as a particular concern across Central and Eastern Europe, according to Marius Dragomir, director of CEU’s Center for Media, Data and Society.
Media capture involves the silencing of media outlets critical of governments by powerful individuals and companies aligned with those governments.
“Governments use affiliated oligarchs to take over media and use them as propaganda channels. It leads to a monopoly of information by a small, corrupt elite that uses the media support to secure elections and, indirectly, access to public resources,” Dragomir recently told Dutch newspaper NRC.
Frequently, oligarchs are able to achieve this by obtaining public procurement contracts from the government, thus allowing them to purchase or gain influence over state and private media and even regulators.
“Hungary stands out as an example of very extreme media capture, done systematically and methodically over a long period of time,” said Dragomir.
Among a number of concerning moves by the Hungarian government and pro-government entities is the consolidation of hundreds of media outlets under the Central European Press and Media Foundation, whose leaders maintain close ties to Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
But extensive media capture is not limited to Hungary. Instead, this is part of a growing trend in several Central and Eastern European countries: “In the Czech Republic, one of the most powerful media moguls and oligarchs is also the prime minister. In Bulgaria, a small group of oligarchs connected with political parties have taken over large parts of the media market,” concluded Dragomir. “And particularly bad these days is Serbia, where the government is using parts of the media—mostly pro-government tabloids—to denigrate independent journalists.”
To hear more on the current challenges facing independent media in Hungary, watch Real Answers, a short documentary film produced by CEU students.