Beginning of a new Hungarian media war? Nap-kelte

Political parties, not without reason, consider the media a weapon that they want in their own arsenal. In the first few years after 1990 liberal journalists dominated the scene. József Antall and later Viktor Orbán made serious efforts to counterbalance this liberal hegemony. Antall didn't have enough time to change the political communications map. Moreover, at that point there were no financial "angels" to fund right-wing media ventures. Viktor Orbán was a bit more successful during his tenure as prime minister, but his real triumph came in the last few years. Today we can safely say that the Hungarian left-liberal media pale in comparison to right-wing newspapers, radio, and television stations.

If a public (that is, government funded) radio or television station wants to get rid of "undesirables," the usual method is to appeal to a shortage of funds. In theory these blood lettings are justifiable because both Magyar Rádíó and Magyar Televízió are bloated. But, interestingly enough, it is always those people or programs deemed to be too liberal that are eliminated. The latest victim seems to be "Nap-kelte" (Sunrise), launched in 1989. For twenty years (with the exception of the Orbán period) Hungarians could wake up to a political show which, I understand, was popular and profitable. Nap-kelte was not a product of the MTV studios but was independently produced by Tamás Gyárfás, originally a sports reporter. His right-hand man was Károly T. Lakat, also a sports reporter and the son of a well-known soccer coach. MTV signed a two-year contract guaranteeing Nap-kelte airtime until the end of 2010, or at least that is what the staff of Nap-kelte thought. Great was Gyárfás's surprise when this morning around 8 o'clock one of MTV's top men appeared in his office envelope in hand. Inside was a letter informing him that MTV had cancelled the contract. I find it surprising how often one hears about breaches of contract in Hungary. I remember one case that surprised me to no end, so I asked a partner in a prestigious New York law firm under what circumstances a contract can be unilaterally cancelled. I received a half an hour explanation, a good portion of which I didn't understand, but the upshot was that it can be done but it is very, very difficult in the U.S. Obviously much less difficult in Hungary.

In Gyárfás's office was a friend of his, János Bánáti, a laywer, who advised him not to accept the letter. I don't know what happened to the letter, whether the MTV man left it on Gyárfás's desk or took it back to MTV's new headquarters. Whatever the case, Nap-kelte is no more as far as MTV is concerned. Nap-kelte used to appear seven days a week. The weekend was the time for "lighter fare." István Verebes, a former theater director, talked with doctors, actors, and writers on Saturday while on Sunday Károly T. Lakat "entertained" us either with soccer stories or with his favorite pasttime, the theater. I'm the first to admit that these weekend shows were dreadful. Verebes was often embarrassingly unprepared. He was quite capable of interviewing an author whose book he hadn't read. Lakat's sugary, obsequious style was hard to take. The decor was awful. A few years ago it only looked primitive but once they "redecorated" it was cheap and tasteless.

Most liberal people stopped watching Nap-kelte two or three years ago. Fidesz decided back in 2006 that Nap-kelte was not politically balanced. It was biased in favor of the left. I must say that I didn't notice any such "deviation." In fact, I thought that in "Kereszttűz" (Crossfire), a constant feature of the program, the journalists in charge (a different one every day between Monday and Friday) were pretty thorough and asked difficult questions from all politicians. But Fidesz obviously didn't think so. My feeling is that for Viktor Orbán  "balanced" means devotedly  "pro-Fidesz." In October 2006 Fidesz decided to put pressure on Nap-kelte: they announced that their politicians will not appear on the program. I thought that this was a "cut off your nose to spite your face" move. After all, they deprived themselves of media exposure.

A year later when it became clear that Nap-kelte didn't break as a result of the Fidesz boycott, they decided to put pressure on the head of MTV to get rid of the journalists the party bigwigs found most objectionable: Endre Aczél and József Orosz. The president of MTV obliged in the hopes of receiving Fidesz votes when the time came for his reappointment. Aczél and Orosz left but there remained another "liberal" on the staff, András Bánó. While Orosz and Aczél were sacked because of an alleged conflict of interest Bánó was guilty of another offense: he wasn't polite with one of the MSZP MPs, the notorious József Karsai. Bánó too had to leave. The places vacated by Orosz, Aczél, and Bánó were filled with second-rates with a right-wing bent. One would have thought that under these new circumstances Fidesz politicians would have returned to Nap-kelte. But no! They continued their boycott. Gyárfás became desperate and started a segment in the show in which he essentially gave an unfiltered voice to Fidesz politics. It aired speeches of Fidesz politicians or snippets of press conferences by the inimitable Péter Szijjártó with no commentary.

Now it seems that this really is the end of Nap-kelte at MTV, effective immediately. Today was their last broadcast. Although MTV's new program "Ma reggel" (Today's Morning) will start only on Monday, even Verebes and Lakat can't show their "expertise" on Saturday and Sunday. MTV will broadcast kiddy shows instead.

And what is the rationale for this breach of contract? Once again, it purports to be financial. The government is unwilling and unable to give MTV as much money as they hoped for and therefore they will have to rethink their practice of using outsiders to provide programs. But they are also scrapping some internally produced shows. For example László Juszt's show called "Lawyer of the television." Juszt is also considered to be a liberal. The reason for this blood letting might be that the top brass of MTV is already thinking of the future. As a headline in Népszabadság said today: "Nap-kelte is going, Fidesz is coming?" Maybe.

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NWO
Guest

It is proof, once again, that Governments should not be in the broadcasting business. Theoretically, a public broadcaster like PBS in the U.S. with independent funding abd an independent board should be able to thrive, but the circumstances are not right for that in this country. It is yet another failure of successive governments that MTV and its sister channels still exist in their current form.

Mark
Guest

“As a headline in Népszabadság said today: “Nap-kelte is going, Fidesz is coming?””
In some ways both this story and your previous story refering to the opposition of the directors of the hospitals to budget cuts are part of the same story. The authority of the government on a day-to-day level is crumbling. My sense of the situation is that some people are jockeying for position for a change of government; among those not prepared to sacrifice their principles there is a lot of fear of what next year will bring.

Pécsi Vera
Guest

Kedves Éva, szeretnék küldeni neked egy dokumentumot, de nem tudom a címed.

Mark
Guest

Though I won’t miss Verebes’s rambling interviews on Sunday morning, I will miss Nap-kelte. A programme which subjects politicians to agressive interviews without fear or favour, that is broadcast in the morning to set the political news agenda for the day is an important plank of both public service broadcasting and a democratic society. At its best it resembled a televisual version of BBC Radio 4’s “Today” programme which has performed this function since 1957. It has had problems since 2006, largely because the right has adopted a “shoot the messenger” approach to interviewers, rather than respond properly to the questions that were put to them.

Mark
Guest

“Juszt is also considered to be a liberal.”
To understand this you need to know more than this. Juszt has – and I’m understating the facts considerably – something of a history as a thorn in the side of FIDESZ. This is a sign of what is to come.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Mark: “Juszt is also considered to be a liberal.” To understand this you need to know more than this. Juszt has – and I’m understating the facts considerably – something of a history as a thorn in the side of FIDESZ. This is a sign of what is to come.”
I know that but it is almost impossible to squeeze everything into a relatively short blog. The readers would get lost in details about people they have never heard of. Although it is true that there are more and more readers from Hungary.
Otherwise, I share your worries but I’m a bit more optimistic about next year. At the latest polls 54% of those asked were unsure about their voting at the elections.
I have a favorite idea about how Fidesz could be stopped, but I don’t know whether the anti-Fidesz forces have enough brains and resolve to come up with the solution.

whoever
Guest

In some ways this is the first of the four horsemen to come riding into town, particularly as far as the government are concerned. It has massive symbolic importance.
Fears about a loss of objectivity in the media must be tempered by the fact that Napkelte was usually dismal TV – just as the “Today Programme” would be dismal TV. There were many perfect faces for radio amongst the interviewers and interviewees. It was monotonous, narrow and often overly reverential, apart from the one or two occasions cited above.
It may be the case that the “incoming” government has enough clout by spring 2010 then to push the media into slavish obedience. Combined with the genuine grievances against the governing coalition this could push Fidesz over the 2/3 barrier. If I had to place a bet, I’d put money on it – though I doubt I’d find anyone to bet against.

Thrasymachus
Guest

This is indeed a shame. Despite an unsurprisingly vexatious relationship with Jobbik, Nap-kelte was the only national political programme that fulfilled the electoral commission strictures on giving all parties airtime.
Would that HírTV had also taken these requirements seriously. Fat chance. The fourth estate is in a shocking condition in Hungary and this move can only make things worse.

whoever
Guest

Thrasymachus, that is all very well. But this format, with these presenters, had run their course. I’m no TV exec, but I know that Worthiness is not enough on its own without flair or imagination.
Start with the Reithian approach: to educate, entertain and inform. Arguably Napkelte and its approach, so focused on personalities and the political elite, did neither of these. It didn’t incoporate social reporting or economic insights, as some of the reporters on the commercial channels do, on those rare occasions when they are allowed to cover stories not involving porn actress. For example Naplo on TV2 has always had a social affairs dimension buried in there somewhere.
Napkelte usually failed to penetrate the news headlines to offer further insights. It was just politics from a failed system, featuring the usual egos, usually removed from any social context. Er… a little bit like this blog sometimes 🙂

Thrasymachus
Guest

@whoever
“Napkelte usually failed to penetrate the news headlines to offer further insights.”

whoever
Guest
I agree with the main point you’re making here. Politicians do need to be pinned down on the issues; but in order to understand different aspects of the issue, there should be, as John Birt said, a “mission to explain.” Otherwise these interviews are adrift. There have been few times when close analysis of politicians in Hungary has really changed the public perspective. After all, in the run up to 2002, Napkelte was marooned on ATV – effectively preaching to the (un)converted. In regards to Reithian standards; I actually think the partial adjustment away from these in the 1960s, associated with Hugh Greene, was a necessary and desirable thing, allowing what has been called the Golden Age of TV to emerge. So I have a looser interpretation of these; and to a certain extent they remain in the BBC’s output in a very diluted form. I think the BBC can still produce excellent programming – often incomparable. Regarding the “Today” programme – it is now co-presented by a respected economist. It carries reports from a network of correspondents around the UK and the world. It has in-house specialists in science, the environment, social affairs, defence, police, etc. Grilling politicians is… Read more »
Pistefka
Guest

I always wondered why they had to broadcast this show simultaneously on M1 and M2. It also always seemed rather monotonous – not much variety visually or in format or content – the kind of political debate which appeals to only a minority of viewers, especially at that time of the morning. It also seemd firmly rooted in a studio in Budapest – where 80% of the population of Hungary DON’T live.
Recently they showed a retrospective of 20 years of the show, and the look of the programme actually sems to have got worse in recent years. The politicians used to sit on a couch, chat show style. This must have been seen as too cosy in recent years though, and since I have been watching it they stand at lecterns – it looks almost like some kind of quiz show, and the decor is even more retro than in the past if that is possible.
Of course this is all rather superficial – but then so is television. It isn’t supposed to be radio with cameras.
Lets hope they can come up with a more varied and entertaining replacement.

Frank
Guest

I don’t think that the real issue is whether the program was “varied or entertaining”. The issue is more the need for a relatively balanced, unbiased, independent, government-funded media channel. How does PBS do it? What “circumstances are right” in the U.S., which are not right in Hungary? Is it the rule of law? …
Here’s my proposal: the media should be treated as a branch of government. (Thomas Jefferson is supposed to have said that he would prefer controlling the media over being the president.) Similarly to the Justices, members of the public TV would be appointed for life – or for a long enough time to avoid having to court voters or party members – by governments.

Pistefka
Guest

The BBC manage to be fairly neutral (and there is always hell to pay if they aren’t.) However, at the same time they make plenty of programmes which manage to be both entertaining and informative. If a programme is dull it doesn’t make necessarily it any more worthy.
I wasn’t suggesting that it is enough for a news or current affairs programme just to look good or hold the viewer’s attention. Of course it should also be “a relatively balanced, unbiased, independent” – and active in its reporting rather than merely reacting to press releases. But there are plenty of other channels to turn to, so its imperative that the viewers don’t get bored, or are turned off by tacky “public” production values.
Public broadcasting should set high standards in all respects, and present a professional face of the state that the people can respect and admire – like a successful public building.

whoever
Guest

Exactly. It’s a sign of the stagnation and lack of ambition in Hungarian politics: the debate around Napkelte/Ma Reggel consists of which politicians will be given the opportunity to answer questions on a monotonous breakfast “show” – rather than “How can we add value to this programme, from a public service perspective?” Any breakfast programme can add context and relevance to any, obviously unbiased, interviews, through outside reports and using a network of reporters. There’s so many issues to cover, and there’s no excuse for using the same faces, over and over again.
But any show which is Peter Kiss every Monday, and Peter Kiss every Thursday, is probably doing something wrong: as is a show which is Mihaly Varga on Wednesdays and Fridays. In fact these programmes probably do more to alienate people from politics, than any marginal contribution to education or engagement.
It’s sometimes the little things that matter. TV should be more than an ego-fest for star interviewers and interviewees: and so should politics.

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