BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — A company linked to an ally of Hungary's prime minister tried Wednesday to play down fears that it would seek to influence the independence of its newly purchased political daily — if it chooses to continue publishing it at all.
The existence and editorial integrity of the leftist Nepszabadsag daily has been the subject of speculation after it was purchased by the Opimus Group on Tuesday. The group is linked to a close friend of right-wing Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
Press rights groups have expressed concern about the purchase, particularly as Hungary prepares for elections in 2018. It is unclear whether the newspaper will even be revived. It ceased publication Oct. 8.
The group said in a statement Wednesday that a subsidiary in charge of the newspaper is "striving exclusively for the profitable maintenance of the media products."
"It does not want to influence their content in any way ... especially not with regards to freedoms of expression and of the press," Opimus said in a statement.
In recent years, members of Orban's inner circle have set up or taken control of several publications and broadcasters, which now show an unquestioning, pro-government bent.
In a move that underscored press freedom concerns, Opimus named three new members to the newspaper's parent company, Mediaworks. They include Gabor Liszkay, the owner of a pro-government newspaper, according to the business daily Vilaggazdasag.
The closure of Nepszabadsag was earlier described as a "huge blow" to the country's media diversity and press freedoms by Dunja Mijatovic, media freedom representative for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
The newspaper was founded in 1956 and was under the control of Hungary's governing communist party until 1989, when a majority stake was sold to private investors.
Mediaworks acquired the paper in 2013 and sold it Tuesday.
With a readership of nearly 40,000 — down from around 115,000 in 2008 and 270,000 in 1995— Nepszabadsag was still the largest political daily in Budapest.