A case study: Hungarian papers on the MSZP pow-wow

I think that even a cursory look at one political event and how the different media present it might be a useful exercise. Prior to the recent meeting of the MSZP leaders the right-wing papers and television stations were full of rumors of Ferenc Gyurcsány’s dismissal by the MSZP from either his position as head of the party or as prime minister or both. HírTV was the busiest spreading the news that Gyurcsány’s days were numbered. Therefore, it had to be rather hard to admit a couple of days later that they were wrong.

Parenthetically, let me inject that a rational reporter would realize that it would be absolutely suicidal of MSZP to get rid of the prime minister under the circumstances. And, let me add, it would be also irresponsible given the belief in foreign financial circles that the reform and the convergence program are closely tied to Gyurcsány. As long as he is at the helm with János Veres at his side there is hope. Otherwise, who knows? Moreover, who could replace him? Surely, nobody at the moment could fill his shoes. However, the right-wing media put wishful thinking ahead of rationality.

HírTV (3/24/08, 12:16) gave an unusually terse headline to its short news item after the meeting of the MSZP leaders: "They won’t dimiss Gyurcsány." Although so far it seems that very little information leaked out of the meeting, HírTV purports to know that the party bigwigs gave Gyurcsány another year to prove himself. The witching date, according to the journalist of HírTV, is next year’s European Union elections. That seems to be the opinion of InfoRádió as well, which headlined its story: "Gyurcsány received a pass till the middle of 2009." If MSZP’s standing with the electorate does not improve by the summer of next year, he will be kicked out. I traced the source of this "information" to MTV’s Este in which the reporter on the scene mentioned this possibility. I interpreted his words as a private opinion rather than an official explanation. MTV’s reporter also added that anyone who knows Gyurcsány understands that in the case of failure he wouldn’t have to be dismissed but would resign.

HírTV also seems to know that Gyurcsány was as self-critical at this meeting as he had been at Balatonőszöd almost two years ago. This is a fairly obvious ploy to remind their listeners of the lying prime minister’s speech that prompted the political crisis of the last year and a half. InfoRádió and MTV seem to be able to differentiate between Balatonszemes, where the meeting was held, and Balatonőszöd, but another right-wing online paper, Gondola, introduced a highly speculative piece with the title: "Another ‘honest’ speech at Őszöd." I guess for a punchy headline one can even change the location. After all, Szemes is close to Őszöd!

Magyar Nemzet "was informed that the prime minister admitted his responsibility for the failure of the referendum." Again, simply using common sense, I very much doubt this. After all, it wasn’t Gyurcsány’s fault that there couldn’t be a more favorable outcome of a plebiscite on questions so devilishly formulated as these three were. If anyonone is responsible for the whole fiasco it is the Constitutional Court and the judges’ narrow interpretation of a bad constitution. Magyar Nemzet also seems to know that "the presidium demanded" a change in governing style and closer cooperation with the party. From other less antagonistic sources the picture that emerges is different. An informal soul searching and a discussion of plans about how to solve the problems the party is facing.

While Hírextra (an online paper) called the weekend MSZP gathering a "crisis conclave," Népszava, a paper close to the government, called the meeting "informal." Although the prime minister "also received criticism, it was not a discussion on a crisis situation." HVG, normally a moderate weekly, in its online edition went so far as to say: "there are no signs that anyone could or would replace Ferenc Gyurcsány, and this is especially true about the post of the prime minister." HVG‘s headline read: "Gyurcsány is firmly sitting on his throne." Even Magyar Nemzet learned that Katalin Szili supported the party and the prime minister, admitting that perhaps she also made a few mistakes and could have taken the initiative in having better relations with Gyurcsány.

HVG mentioned "the journalists’ guessing games," pretty well indicating that all of their speculations were basically wrong. In this guessing game Gondola went farthest since it seemed to know that "important businessmen behind MSZP" are already looking around for a prime minister who would be acceptable to the international financial community. Apparently, they found their men: the current and the former head of the National Bank! But, according to Gondola they are not too eager. I assume this latest piece of "information" is about as accurate as some of Gondola’s other fantasies.