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Associations and InstitutionsAnnual 

64th IFLA Conference Logo

   64th IFLA General Conference
   August 16 - August 21, 1998


Code Number: 097-116-E
Division Number: V.
Professional Group: Newspapers
Joint Meeting with: -
Meeting Number: 116.
Simultaneous Interpretation:   No

Hungarian Press in the Last Ten Years Overview 1987/97

Elizabeth Gazdag


Anikó Nagy

Országos Széchényi Könyvtar
Budapest, Hungary


Hungarian press (publishing of periodicals) - similarly to the practice of other countries - has been subject to legal regulation since the middle of the last century. The Act currently being in force in Hungary is the "Press-law of 1986" which has suffered several modifications and additions since its establishment. According to the Act, when publishing a periodical publication in the country, a permission had to be requested from the Information Bureau of the Cabinet. This regulation was revised in 1989, according to which "producing and publication of serials involves the obligation of registration" only. The former permission was replaced by an official document issued by the Ministry of Culture and Education, and the registration costs 10.000 HUF each time when a new periodical is going to be published or when an existing one is going to change its title. From 1995 the Periodicals Registration Department of the Ministry has been issuing a decision instead of an official document under the same conditions. The registration shall contain information on the title and on the subject of the planned serial, and also details concerning the establisher, responsible editor and the publisher.

The national library is provided with two legal deposit copies serving as the basis of its collection and of the national bibliographic control.

Freedom of press

After the change of regime in Hungary in 1989, a new political and economic system has been formed. On the one hand it is reflected in the media, including the press, on the other hand it has produced its own media. The importance of press is underlined by the fact that one of the a national holidays in Hungary, the day of the revolution in 1848, 15th of March is the 'Day of Press' at the same time. This is a particular occasion for political scientists, sociologists, economists and journalists to review the situation of the press and connections between press and society. "In its political and legal sense the Hungarian press is free" - this is a fact, and a discussion titled 'The Freedom of Press - the Press of Freedom was opened with these words by the president of the National Association of Hungarian Journalists, István Wisinger, on March 11th, 1998. The participants expressed their thoughts on how this effects on society, namely on our political and economic life, on our connections, private life, on newspaper owners, journalists and readers, as well.

One of the changes in press was emphasised by the political scientist, László Lengyel: the press had become a hierarchical one. The new ownership and leadership are different from those of the usual relations before the change of regime. The owners have appeared including businessmen of "Western type" managing the press according to economics and economy. Their ideas are not always the same as the ones of the society of journalists. It has to be considered that the media is a risky enterprise. A new journal has to be introduced to the market, has to be acquainted with future readers, and has to be sold. The advertisements create financial basis for producing journals and give profit for the owners. Some say: too much periodicals are produced in Hungary, they are uneconomical ones, they can not keep themselves, they can not survive. As a consequence, the sociologist, Mária Vásárhelyi underlined - and all the participants of the discussion agreed - that according to journalists' feelings, their position had been getting worse both in ideological and economic sense. This latter statement has not been proved by another survey examining the index of reputation of media. According to information obtained by a public opinion poll in Hungary: "media played a spectacularly positive part in the transformation process in view of the public opinion". This concerns not only the television and radio, but the printed press as well.

A librarian, a bibliographer, whose duty is to inform about press, to provide readers with information based on press, and to preserve publications for succeeding generations, tries to verify and illustrate the opinion of media-professionals through factual data.


We are going to arrange data in groups according to certain aspects, relying on the database of Hungarian periodicals, that has been built since 1986. We are going to review only those types of documents, which belong to the scope of the current National Bibliography of Periodicals*, covered by computerised cataloguing at the moment.

If we want to examine the press-products of the last 11 years, first we have to ask whether there are lots of them today? The average number of publications (i.e. titles) issued each year between 1987 and 1997 was more than 3500. This quantity was increasing until 1994, afterwards it was decreasing. The improved number of publications in the years 1993 and 1994 must be connected with the elections in Hungary.

In the examined period, from 1987 to 1997, all in all 9011 new periodicals have started (of course we consider as new ones serials issued under a changed title, as well, including cases when a generic term associated with the name of issuing body has changed). The characteristic of title-changes is showed by the fact, that from 9011 new products 2369 ones (26,3%) had preceding titles, 996 ones (11%) had succeeding titles, and 396 ones (4,4%) had both of them. Besides usual reasons of title-changes (amendments due to the enlarged contents or following the new ideas of a new editorial staff), there were other factors causing growth in the number of new titles, as well. While in 1987 and beforehand an average of 360 new periodicals were registered, this number has been increasing strongly since 1990 (we experienced a double or triple growth). Most of the publications were issued in 1991, so we selected this year as the subject of examination. That year, from 1243 new periodicals 304 ones had a preceding title.

New factors resulting in title changes

Examining the publications one by one leads to the following result: from 304 title-changes we have found some usual reason of the amendment (mentioned before) in 101 cases. 5 periodicals were formed by merging with several publications; 8 new bibliographic entities were created due to splits. But in the background of further cases we can find social-economic-financial motivations. This period could be an excellent subject to study for historians of press, but we would only like to present some facts with the method of statistics.

In the year 1991, 97 periodicals were issued with new titles, just because of the change of the issuing body, more exactly, of a change in the name of their corporate body. During the examined period, the corporates, institutes, institutions have often changed their names due to the political-social changes in three spheres:

  1. As a result of change of admnistrative authorithies in 1990, "councils" ("soviets") were followed by municipalities. This change has been reflected by periodicals in 1990, and it has become a significant feature of title-changes in 1991 and afterwards. From the 304 title-changes there were 44 ones occurring for this reason, that is to say, publications issued by the local authorities had become publications controlled by self-governments.

  2. Beginning from 1989 most of the institutions have revised their designations, and several of them changed its name. Such expressions as "Red October", "1st of May", "4th of April" have disappeared from designations of factories, and the same happened to the personal names of leaders of the international and national working-class movement, like Marx, Lenin or Mitchourin etc. A number of institutes have corporated in their designation the name of a prominent personality in the respective field of science. This way, for example, the Medical University of Szeged changed its name to Albert Szent-Györgyi Medical University. Changes in names of institutions of the kind resulted in 37 new titles among documents under examination.

  3. It must be due to the economic changes that the number of share companies, limited liability companies, limited joint stock companies etc. has rapidly increased since 1990. This phenomenon can be traced in respect of press, as well. In 1991, 304 title changes were registered - 16 of them happened to publications issued earlier by some kind of enterprise which became a company of shareholders or a limited liability company.

To come back to other cases of title changes, it is to be emphasised that a few geographical names have also been changed in Hungary. Let us quote an example: Leninváros ("Lenin-town") received back its former name, and became Tiszaújváros in 1990. Consequently, its local newspaper suffered a title-change. Following the change of the political system, four counties out of the 19 ones in Hungary have made a change in their name. It resulted in 6 title changes in 1991, but partly beforehand, and partly later, there were several periodicals concerned, as well.

Due to the changes in political system, publications treated earlier as restricted, internal materials with suppressed or limited distribution were again received by the national library as legal deposit copies, this way generating 9 "new" periodicals.

Some publications could not come out in Hungary during the period of the communist system, therefore they were published abroad. To our great satisfaction, these periodicals have gradually returned home in the nineties. In 1991 (the subject of our survey at the moment) 4 periodicals were published again in Hungary. By way of illustration: from 1969 up to 1990 a bimonthly journal was issued by the Hungarian Province of Societas Jesu in Austria under the title Szolgálat ("Service") - the publication came back as Távlatok ("Perspectives"). Or, another journal of avantgarde literature Arkánum was published in Washington between 1981 and 1989 by Hungarians living in the US.

Publishers - publishing practice

In addition to the previous quantitative analysis, it is worthwhile surveying the changes from another aspect: let us examine the publishing practice in Hungary. We shall explore facts related to 3 years: 1987 represents publishing before the changes in the political system, 1992 stands for the period when uncertainty caused by the changes has been fading slightly, and 1997 shows the current situation.

At the beginning of the period under our survey, in 1987, there were a few large publishing houses specialised in issuing newspapers and journals. They launched the majority of publicly distributed periodicals. Publishing house Lapkiadó issued 317 periodicals, the "Newspaper Publishing House" (Hírlapkiadó) and the "Statistical Publishing House" (Statisztikai Kiadó Válallat) issued more than 100 periodicals each. The "Youth Publishing House" (Ifjúsági Lapkiadó Vállalat) and the "Publishing House of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences" (Akadémiai Kiadó) issued 90 periodicals each, and Publishing House Népszava issued 55 serials. These were the largest publishers in the capital. In the provinces each county had its own newspaper publishing house: those published all in all 364 periodicals.

In the period following the change of regime a significant change occurred in this respect. Newspapers (especially daily and weekly papers) were bought by private firms or often by foreign investors, enterprisers. Small publishing companies were established or put in charge of issuing newspapers. Companies of shareholders, limited liability companies and other forms of companies were promoted by societies, associations with the purpose of publishing. In 1992, there were no publishers issuing more than 30 periodicals. A number of enterprises went into bankruptcy, passing at the same time their products to other corporations. (This event frequently resulted in title changes of periodicals, as mentioned before.)

There is only one feature of publishing practice which has not suffered changes during the last ten years: universities, colleges, scientific and research institutions and other corporations of the kind, both in the years before and after 1990, have been undertaking the duties of a publisher when issuing a publication.

Now, let us have a look at the proportion of periodicals issued in the previously selected three years in the period under examination, in respect of the variety of publications.

Party newspapers - church press

As for newspapers of political parties, in 1987, 48 newspapers were available, all issued by the Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party, or by its central and local organisations. In 1992, 175 newspapers appeared due to the publishing activity of different parties of the parliament and of other smaller parties. Up to the end of the previous year, this number has been considerably reduced to 61 publications. This seems to be a reasonable number according to the claims raised by the public. 1998 is the year of elections in Hungary, this way, in addition to the regular newspapers of political parties, provisional, electoral publications have also been launched, just as four years ago in 1994, and earlier in 1990.

Changes of political system were closely correlated with spreading of ideological freedom. The Churches were restored to their earlier role in the society, and they give a sign of life through the press as well. Before the changes there were 41 religious periodical publications in the country - this number has quadrupled by 1992, and it seems to be a consistent value ever since.

Public newspapers

Sticking to the subject of public life, let us look into the figures of regional public newspapers. In 1987, in conformity with the conventions, there were 22 regional public newspapers published in the country. The 19 counties of Hungary issued as a rule one paper each for their own region, however, one of them appeared in three local editions. Up to 1992 this number was doubled, and it has not changed remarkably ever since. The number of registered regional public newspapers in 1992: 44, and in 1997: 43.

Even more considerable development can be observed in case of city-papers: 35 local public newspapers were published in 1987, in 1992 their number reached 517, and last year this figure lessened to 386. Even so, the original number was multiplied more than ten times. It is not at all unlikely nowadays to publish more than one local paper in a town, as local headquarters of different parties can often be found behind the newspapers.

In the capital Budapest, apart from the 5 nation-wide daily newspapers, the districts have also their own press. 11 years ago, in 1987, this area was strictly regulated: the 22 districts of Budapest owned its 22 publications. 5 years later, in 1992, there were 38 district newspapers in Budapest, and in 1997 this figure was 44, doubling this way the original state.

Business press

Periodicals published by different economic companies show a similar kind of upward tendency. Economic magazines published in 1987 amounted to 70. This number was doubled (139) by the year 1992, however, in 1997 there were "only" 103 economic publications registered. These publications represented the scientific, professional, and popular sphere, as well, and a good number of newsletters have been started by chambers of commerce recently reorganised.

The media have become a field of business interests following the political turning point. As far as the printed press is concerned, it is obvious from the increased number of promotional publications, too. Moreover, a lower amount of investment can also be adequate to launch a small publishing enterprise - hereby the Hungarian population has been generously provided with advertising papers and puzzles.

In 1987, there were only 6 advertising newspapers published in Hungary. By the year 1992 the number of advertising publications has been increased twenty threefold - 138 such papers were distributed in towns and regions all over the country. Some of them must have gone into bankruptcy as, in 1997, just 88 publications of the kind were registered. In fact, this number is still fourteen times larger than that of ten years ago.

On the other hand, regress can not be experienced in the permanently growing number of puzzle magazines. Their number has doubled every five years so far, starting from 13 publications in 1987, issued 30 magazines of puzzles in 1992, and their number has reached 63 up to the end of 1997.

New technology

At the same time as social changes began in Hungary, the new technologies also reached the country, and the era of electronic media opened. Periodicals issued in floppy disks appeared first, exactly ten years ago, in 1988. However, this physical medium has not become really popular - the number of individual publications in floppy disks has never reached 10, and this form of publishing is considered more or less out-of-date by now. Diskettes can more often be encountered as attachments to printed publications.

On the other hand, more and more serials have been published in a compact disk version. The number of CD periodicals registered in the national bibliography is 35, that is about 1 percent of the printed publications. Even if we sum up the number of floppy and compact disk publications, together with the occurrences of these media as insets to printed periodicals, their proportion remains under 2 percent of the printed press.

These kind of serials published in electronic forms have been included in the National Bibliography of Periodicals since 1989, shortly after their appearance. Furthermore, the bibliography registers also information on the Internet locations given by printed publications in their imprint data. In more than 260 bibliographic descriptions references to URLs can be found. About 30 percent of these references leads the reader to the web-site of the publisher - other sites might be of fairly different contents. These may contain information on the periodical publication itself together with its subscription conditions; or, others may include a table of content as well; again others show some fragments from the printed publication; and of course, more and more full-text publications can be read online in the world wide web.

In 1996, the nation-wide daily newspapers one after the other became available online, via the Internet. These online versions include not only the full text of articles, but give further information on certain current issues. One informs about long-distance, remote employment possibilities, another helps people to make a decision concerning selecting a pension insurance company etc.

The year 1996 is considered to be the year of "explosion" of Internet in Hungary, a turning point, when both the quantity and the quality of online publications show a pregnant development. Together with the online versions of printed serials mentioned before, independent online magazines also started their career. A part of them can be taken as a humble attempt, but there are some truly professional ventures in the Hungarian net, as well. Among them the oldest one was established in 1995 under the title Internetto.

Nowadays, at least 250 online periodicals are being issued in Hungary and are available through the "News-stand" of the EuroWeb, one of the greatest providers of net services. Although this figure can serve only as an estimation, since quite a few online serials might exist outside this collection. Nevertheless, the number of online periodical publications has probably not reached the 10 percent of the printed press yet, at the same time, a dynamic development can be observed in this field of publishing activity.

All the more so as the government and the responsible ministries by all means support these kind of ventures, as a result of adopting the objectives and tasks outlined by the National Informatics Strategy of Hungary. The strategic plan was drafted by a Steering Committee on the initiative of several government and non-government organisations in 1996 with the aim of responding to the challenge of the forthcoming information society in Hungary. On the basis of this document the Cultural Heritage Division together with the Library Department of the Ministry of Culture and Education in Hungary prepared a conception defining the future development for the sphere of public collections (libraries, museums, archives) and for the network of national education up to the 2000th year. Libraries, publishers and information providers one by one join the conception with their projects for the sake of establishing up-to-date services or improving the existing information possibilities in order to answer the requirements of future users, members of our developing society.