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Hungary’s Left-Wing Paper Stops Publication

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Hungary's largest left-wing political newspaper has suspended publication because of "considerable" losses, its owners said Saturday. The move was condemned by opposition parties across the political spectrum, all accusing Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government of trying to extend its dominance over the media.

Mediaworks it was searching for the "best business model" for the Nepszabadsag paper, offering subscribers alternative publications or refunds. The company did not say when the newspaper might reappear but said it wants to "preserve Nepszabadsag for the future."

Mediaworks said the paper lost more 5 billion forints ($18.4 million) since 2007 and was generating "a considerable net loss" so far this year.

Journalists at the newspaper said they weren't given advance notice and described the suspension of the paper's print and online editions as a "coup."

Many questioned the timing of the suspension. In the past few days, the paper had broken several stories highlighting suspicions of corruption involving senior officials from the government and the National Bank of Hungary.

"The total undermining of the Nepszabadsag is the latest example of Viktor's Orban's megalomania," said Adam Mirkoczi, spokesman of the far-right Jobbik party. "The only aim of Fidesz is to either gain 100 percent control over Hungarian media or to obstruct it."

Hungary's media landscape has changed considerably in the last few years, with many print and online publications as well as radio and television stations coming under the control of Orban's inner circle and then taking on a noticeable pro-government bent.

There had been considerable speculation that Nepszabadsag and other Mediaworks publications will be sold to one or the other of Orban's allies. Ad expenditures from government and state-owned enterprises, an important revenue source for media, have notably favored publications toeing the government line.

Mediaworks, owned by private equity firm Vienna Capital Partners, controls a large sector of the Hungarian print media market, including the Vilaggazdasag business daily and the Nemzeti Sport sports daily. Last year, it acquired a 27.7 percent stake in Nepszabadsag, which had been owned by a foundation set up by the Socialist Party, the country's largest leftist opposition group. Last week, the company announced the acquisition of regional newspapers in 12 counties, adding to its existing portfolio that includes eight other regional dailies and a wide range of magazines.

The leftist Together party said Orban moved to get the paper suspended because investigative journalism stood in his way.

"With this action, the Orban regime's battle against freedom of the press has reached its peak," said Together chairman Viktor Szigetvari.

Nepszabadsag, launched in 1956 and under the control of Hungary's ruling communist party until 1989, has a circulation of around 40,000, down from around 115,000 in 2008 and 270,000 in 1995.

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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