September 17, 2018 / 8:15 PM / a month ago

Businessman sells company with indirect control over Hungary's main independent news website

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungarian businessman Zoltan Speder announced on Monday that he had sold all his holdings in media group cemp-X Online Zrt which owns several publications and has indirect control over Hungary’s main independent news website Index.hu.

Employees of Hungary's main independent website Index talk in the newsroom in Budapest, Hungary, September 18, 2018. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo

Speder, who fell out with Prime Minister Viktor Orban in 2016, said in a statement that the buyers were Gabor Ziegler, a member of the board of cemp-x Online, and media entrepreneur Jozsef Oltyan, with each now holding 50 percent of cemp-x Online.

Index is the largest outlet to conduct investigations and break news critical of Orban after a shake-up in Hungary’s media in recent years left most major news outlets under the control of the government, or businessmen friendly with it.

Orban has clashed with Brussels over his policies towards the media, courts and civil organizations in the past years. The European Parliament voted last week to sanction Hungary for breaking EU rules on democracy and civil rights.

The new owners of cemp-x said “the transaction does not affect the operation of Index.hu publishing house and its editorial” and Index would continue to be owned by the “For Hungarian Development Foundation” run by Laszlo Bodolai.

“The editorial independence of Index is guaranteed thanks to the ownership structure via the foundation,” they said.

Journalists of Hungary's main independent website Index talk in the newsroom in Budapest, Hungary, September 18, 2018. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo

Rightwing nationalist Orban, who was re-elected in April for a third consecutive term in national elections, has repeatedly described Index as “fake news” and had declined to reply to questions from Index reporters.

Ziegler and Oltyan said in the statement that cemp-x Online and its unit CEMP Sales House Kft had bought 50-50 percent stakes in the company that established the foundation that owns Index.hu. They bought the stakes from Bodolai.

Financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

Bodolai, who runs the “For Hungarian Development Foundation”, said in a statement cited by business news website Portfolio.hu that “the independence of Index would be guaranteed due to the ownership of Index via the foundation.”

Gabor Polyak, an analyst at media thinktank Mertek and an associate professor, said the cemp group had a strong direct influence on the business operations of Index.hu.

“They manage the advertisement sales (of Index) and without them the economic stability of Index could come under threat. The other (news site) units (part of the holding) are also key parts of Index,” he said.

“(The group sold) has a strong direct influence on the operations of Index.”

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Reporting by Sandor Peto and Krisztina Than; Editing by Adrian Croft

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