PM Orban's ally buys Hungary's second-largest TV group

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungarian filmmaker and entrepreneur Andrew G. Vajna, a close associate of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, has agreed to buy the country’s second-largest television company TV2 Group on Thursday, TV2 said in a statement posted on its website.

TV2 Group includes TV2, the country’s second-largest privately owned television station, as well as three other smaller cable channels, representing a big slice of the media market in Hungary.

Vajna, 71, has had a long career as a producer of Hollywood blockbusters such as the Terminator and Rambo franchises. He returned to Hungary after the fall of Communism in the 1990s and became active in politics, often seen around Orban.

Vajna serves as government film commissioner with oversight of the public motion picture financing budget. He also owns several casinos in the country.

Orban called for new media allies in April after he had lost the support of his long-time associate Lajos Simicska, whose media empire subsequently turned more critical of the premier’s center-right Fidesz party earlier this year.

The prime minister, who has enjoyed a big majority in parliament since 2010, has come under fire in recent years from international partners and domestic opponents for what they see as undue influence over the country’s media.

TV2 Group was until 2014 part of Germany’s Prosiebensat 1 Media SE, which sold it to a pair of TV2 executives through a vendor loan for 14.7 million euros, the overwhelming majority of which was financed by the German company itself.

Vajna signed the purchase contract with the TV2 owner-executives on Oct. 15, according to the statement, which added that regulatory approval will be necessary before the deal is concluded at an unspecified later date.

TV2 is the biggest competitor of market-leading German RTL Group, which has itself come under pressure from Orban’s government in recent years as the government raised taxes that put by far the largest burden on RTL.

The tax was later lowered.

Reporting by Marton Dunai, editing by David Evans