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Closure of Hungary opposition paper a 'black day' for journalism

By Christina Okello

A week after the suspension of Hungary's biggest opposition newspaper, Nepszabadsag, staff are still in limbo. Over 90 colleagues were locked out of the offices of the 60-year-old title on Saturday 8 October, after it was closed without warning.

"On Saturday, I received a phone call from a fellow colleague who's working for Nepszabadsag and he told me that dispatchers are on the way," Andras Desi, a reporter at the 60-year-old title, told RFI, still in shock.

"They were delivering letters to employees of Nepszabadsag saying that the publisher decided to suspend the print and online edition."

The news came without warning to Desi and his 90 colleagues, who saw their email accounts blocked and the site’s website promptly shut down.

The closure comes after the Opposition daily published a series of articles investigating alleged government corruption.

While the newspaper’s owners argue the closure made business sense-- Nepszabadsag has lost three quarters of its readership in the past ten years--activists see it as more media censorship.

"Two years ago, we had an issue with an online outlet called Origo, a big daily on the internet, which was also reporting on alleged government corruption," explains Lydia Gall, a researcher on Eastern Europe at Human Rights Watch.

"The Editor in Chief went public saying there was direct editorial interference. He was told you can't report on this because we will have issues with the government. He was of the opinion, I'm going to do it anyway, and the owners basically fired him."

Did Nepszabadsag go too far also? Desi thinks so.

"We disturbed too much Victor Orban's rule and this is a sort of revenge I think so from the part of the ruling party. They just want to limit the critical voices and Nepszabadsag was the main critical voice here in Hungary."

In an interview, Orban said the true violation of press freedom would be if the government interfered with the decision of a media owner.

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