Propaganda campaign in the media?

In the last week I have become more and more convinced that certain circles close to Fidesz are waging a well constructed and successful propaganda campaign in the media that will "rewrite" the results of the plebiscite. Attila Ágh, the political scientist, made an interesting observation. Every political event has an afterlife, and the massaging of this afterlife is just as important or perhaps even more important than the event itself. He gave a very good example: the events of October 23, 2007. The actual event was a fairly serious disturbance by a violent mob against the police. But its afterlife bears little resemblance to the original events. By now the conversation is not about a drunken mob but about peaceful demonstrators who were attacked by the vicious police. And the police are led by a bloodthirsty dictator, the prime minister, who is criminally liable for endangering the lives of peaceful citizens. With clever manipulation the events we saw with our own eyes on the television set become a mere mirage. Something like that is going on today with the results of the plebiscite.

Everybody knew in their heart of hearts, including Ferenc Gyurcsány himself, that the referendum could not be won. The only surprise was the number of people who went out to vote. A bit over 50% of all eligible voters. The analysis of the results is not ready yet, but according to educated guesses Fidesz managed to convince about 70% of its own followers to vote. Where the other 30% came from remains unknown: from MSZP supporters, from the undecided, from those who never voted at general elections but when the question concerned their pocket books decided to go and write in a big "yes"?  There is a strong, and a likely, suspicion that those dollar signs (pardon, forint signs) had something to do with the large turnout. We might recall the earlier referendum of December 2005 that also included a question on the ownership of hospitals. That referendum didn’t attract people in such large numbers.

Following the counting of the ballots of the recent referendum rumors have been flying, especially in the right-wing media. Magyar Nemzet is the leader in this department. This paper ignores the most basic practices of good journalism. The informants are always anonymous, and there is no confirmation of information. There are, however, a lot of conditionals. An article about the prime minister’s possible resignation begins with the words "not unimaginable." I guess not too many things are unimaginable except perhaps that the sun will rise in the west or that we will live forever. The problem with this kind of journalism is that it is highly misleading. The careless reader who looks through an article while having breakfast will not remember the "not unimaginable" phrase. Rather, his takeaway will be that Gyurcsány will not be prime minister by summer time, and he will spread this news to his neighbor.

The homepage of Fidesz announced that this weekend the upper echelon of the MSZP was scheduled to hold a vote of confidence on Gyurcsány, and the article adds that "political analysts are trying to pinpoint the date of his departure." Tamás Fricz, a Fidesz propagandist posing as a political scientist, purports to know that "Gyurcsány will resign this year and Péter Kiss will be the new prime minister." Heti Válasz, allegedly a more moderate right-wing weekly, also has its candidates: Gordon Bajnai, minister in charge of local government and regional development, or András Simor, the head of the National Bank. Needless to say, these prophecies have no basis in facts.

Meanwhile this propaganda campaign even manages to infect the more liberal "intellectual elite" as they like to call themselves. These people are also spreading rumors about grand coalitions, the breakup of the coalition, the MDF’s future role, and all sorts of things that again lack substantiation.

The real news about this weekend’s meeting of the MSZP bigwigs is that it was a rather prosaic, peaceful affair. There was no vote of confidence/no confidence, they didn’t tell Gyurcsány to get lost, they didn’t suggest that he give up his post as party chief. Just the opposite, the "presidium" (elnökség) supported Gyurcsány, and Gyurcsány promised to work more closely with the leading members of the party. Even Katalin Szili promised to be a good girl in the future. This outcome was a bit of a cold shower for the right-wing journalists. Nonetheless, they run headlines that show Gyurcsány in a Lenten rather than an Easter mood: "I am not able to carry on alone…." A pessimistic sounding phrase full of foreboding.

Hungarian society is in a feverish state, and it will be difficult to cool it off given the present situation. There is a slight chance that Fidesz will slow down its attacks on the government because, after all, not even Viktor Orbán wants to have early elections and an early victory. Although he would very much like to be prime minister again, under the circumstances I’m sure that even he thinks that it is better to leave the dirty work to his hated enemy.

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Questions come to mind:
1) How effective is the print media on influencing the electorate? Is there any real relevance compared to TV news media? I don’t seem to think that the print media sets the agenda for the TV media like it does in the UK, but in my opinion is probably closer to that of the United States where only the highly educated classes, mostly in the big urban cities, does it have any real influence. Though, I could be wrong. (possibly the first time that sentence has been written on any blog?)
2) Who are the owners of the private media nowadays? Who are the influential moneyed persons and are their politics reflected in their media product like Rupert Murdoch?


******Who are the influential moneyed persons and are their politics reflected in their media product like Rupert Murdoch?******
LOL. Cuz Pinch Sulzberger’s politics are never reflected in the NYT….


Thanks for the answer Eva.
I think I have read somewhere that Mr. Széles also owns or is a large benefactor to one of the communications universities. I think it is the one near the Ikea at Őrs vezér tere. If that is true, that is some nice synergy!


I probably said this somewhere else on this site, but…
My Jobbik-sources always tells me that HirTV is basically impossible to plant any news in. They just send pro-Fidesz and stop Jobbik-info.
EchoTV is another thing, they are more open to publish typical Jobbik-material, but maybe they would publish anything if someone served them on a silver-plate.
EchoTV has allegedly started to give logistics support to, a “news”-site started by Jobbik 1 year ago to promote Jobbik/Magyar Garda in an “independent” role. Where else would you read every single word that Gabor Vona (Jobbik President) utters. has allegedly 4-5.000 hits per day, so it is not extremely small.
I may be wrong, but I get the feeling that the Hungarian Right is better promoting themselves.

Without a doubt the Right is better at promoting itself. It is outrageous that the dominant narrative concerning the riots of 2006 and 2007 is one of police brutality against peaceful demonstrators rather than one of violent mobs tacitly encouraged if not spurred on by the leader of the parliamentary opposition. There was nothing peaceful about the mob that attacked the MTV headquarters, nor those that set cars on fire and otherwise destroyed public and private property in the ensuing nights and weeks. There is no question that there was unjustifiable police brutality – I came within half a second of being beaten, myself – but there are two sides to the story, only one of which is heard in the media. The Fidesz myth-making machine has quite a few exploits to its name. One of the earliest was the notion that the MSZP “stole” the 2002 elections. The obvious absurdity of the idea – that the election was fixed by a party not in power at the time – didn’t stop it gaining currency on the right. It was a protest against the ‘stolen’ election that launched György Budaházy’s career with the blockade on Erzsébet hid that summer. Another… Read more »