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.