As many as 1,000 demonstrators picketed outside the headquarters of Magyar Televizio, Hungary’s state television network, last weekend to protest an alleged bid by the Magyar government to strengthen its political grip over the nation’s only national TV web.

Specifically, the crowd protested acting Magyar TV president Gabor Nahlik’s decision last week to cancel the network’s news program “Esti Egyenleg” (Evening Balance) — the most objective current affairs show on Magyar television, in the opinion of some analysts, and a frequent critic of Hungary’s coalition government.

The disappearance of “Evening Balance” from the Hungarian dial appears to be a sign that a pro-government political faction is gaining an upper hand within the network, eliminating personnel and programs known to be critical of the Magyar Democratic Forum (MDF), the leading political party in Hungary’s parliamentary coalition.

For U.S. investors, this development suggests that the Hungarian government is not likely to pass legislation that will open up and liberalize the Magyar TV sector, which has been closed to private ownership since the collapse of communism four years ago, before the next election in approximately six months.

According to insiders, Magyar TV’s decision to kill “Evening Balance,” which appeared nightly on the second channel of Hungary’s two-station network, is part of a government bid to gain complete political control of Magyar TV in order to use it as a soapbox from which to campaign in the upcoming election.

A labor leader at the network charged that suppressing “Evening Balance” could be a precursor to a right wing putsch. “There is a fear in me that simply that this is the way that the government can influence the masses,” said one industry insider.

Magyar TV management, for its part, is not crazy about accusations of Machiavellianism. In defense, network execs stated that “Evening Balance” was canceled because of editorial bias in favor of Hungary’s parliamentary opposition parties.

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