Overconfident politician and lousy Hungarian journalists

Sorry to be so harsh, but after reading an interview with Viktor Orbán in Blikk (September 26) I don't feel too charitable. These two so-called journalists either don't know the first thing about their profession or they are in cohoots with Viktor Orbán and the interview they penned is no more than an opportunity to give him a platform. They obviously were not ashamed of their handiwork because they put their names at the bottom: Bori Fodor and Gábor Tibay.

First a few things about Blikk. It is considered to be a tabloid and perhaps because it is a tabloid it is very popular. It is published in 250,000 copies but media observers think that its readership is much greater than that. They guess about 1 million. The next most popular paper is Metró, one of those free papers given away at street corners. Népszabadság is third on the list by size of readership.

Lately Orbán has been very generous with his time when it comes to giving interviews to Blikk. After all, he manages to reach a lot of people by talking through that tabloid, and it seems that the journalists of the paper know what Viktor Orbán tolerates and what he doesn't. He doesn't tolerate much. When he was prime minister he was interviewed on Nap-kelte once a month, but he was willing to grant these interviews only to János Betlen, a member of the Fidesz "choir". Betlen never asked any hard questions. The situation was the same on Magyar Rádió: only one or two people were allowed to interview him. Both were willing to promote Orbán's image. It seems that Orbán has found his new willing accomplices at Blikk.

The so-called interview is not long and therefore I will translate most of it because otherwise the flavor of this slavish performance would be lost. Here and there I will interject my own observations about what the journalists should have asked as follow-ups.

The interview starts with a bang. It turned out that Blikk recently conducted a poll among a non-representative sample. The question was which politicians the paper's readers consider "most creditable." And who do you think came out on top?  None other than the subject of the interview. In response to the announcement of the results of this poll Orbán is modest and talks about politicians in general. Politicians who "promised success and produced failure" of course are not creditable. The best policy is "to be true to oneself." Perhaps it is possible to be successful in the short run if one is not showing one's true self, but he himself is "a long-distance runner." One can certainly ponder "the true self" of Viktor Orbán because he changed his color so many times that it was hard to keep track.

The next question concerns Orbán's future government. According to the journalists Tibor Navracsics said that "within a few days the Fidesz government will take concrete steps and produce a new budget." For Orbán "a few days" are too many. Election night there will be a celebration but the very next day "we have to act." A polite question follows: "What will happen the next day?" Orbán says that "there will be a load off our minds…. We will be free of the lack of public safety, irrational political decisions, BKV stories, or this budget and the problems connected to it." And that is not all: they will create new jobs. "Hungary will at last come up for air." Surely, this is going to be a very busy day because please note that the question was about the very first day and after all these generalities the journalists didn't inquire how on earth it was possible to achieve all that on the first day.

Next question. "If we come up for air, then what will happen?" Answer: they will create one million new jobs. They will change the tax code because taxes are too high and that's why employers can't hire more workers. There was, of course, no follow-up to this Fidesz mantra. Neither interviewer asked about the effect of lowering taxes on the deficit. Neither mentioned that hiring workers doesn't depend only on the level of taxation but also, and perhaps mainly, on consumer demand. But these questions would only have complicated the interview and compromised their future access to Orbán. They jumped to the next question.

"How many days of grace are you asking for?" Answer: none. In the past people talked about the first 100 days of grace but he will not need that. New question: "What will happen if there is less money in the till?" The interviewers were trying to be helpful to Orbán because he could then explain why he might not keep all his promises. After all, this is what he did in 1998. Since he doesn't want to dwell on those days he simply brushed the question aside. Fidesz is familiar with situations like that. After all, in 1998 the national debt was very high–58% of the GDP, but four years later it was only 53%. They know how to handle such problems. Naturally the question of indebtedness cannot be solved in one day. Again no follow-up question reminding him that in the first two years of his government after 1998 he introduced a veritable austerity program and didn't fulfill most of his campaign promises.

The journalists came up with another brilliant question: how long will it take to turn things around? Answer: it will all depend on how fast they can create jobs. In any case, whatever happens they are not thinking about taking up more loans. Under his government the country will rely only on itself. No question about the heavy reliance of Hungary on exports and that Hungary's economic well being largely depends on the world economy.

As for campaign promises. Orbán "never in his life made empty promises." (And the ceiling didn't fall on him!) He may have made "pledges" which he tried to fulfill to the best of his ability. In most cases he was "successful." He "will make serious, far-reaching pledges and will fulfill those pledges." Here is at last a follow-up of sorts: "What are these pledges?' Orbán: "I see great prospects in agriculture. More people could work in that sector than now." However, that's not enough. "Good cheer will return to Budapest too" after a few changes. What will these changes be? New bridges for example on River Ipoly (between Slovakia and Hungary) and a bridge in Budapest only for pedestrians. Again no follow-up. No one asks what the bridges across the Ipoly have to do with "cheer" in Budapest and why only a pedestrian bridge is planned when clearly that will not solve the traffic problems in Budapest. In addition he muttered something about developing Hungary as a transit hub but forgot to mention, and of course no one asked, why in that case he said not a long time ago that they would stop all highway construction.

Let's jump to public safety. Will there be more policemen? Orbán was well prepared here: 3,000 more. He added that actually Fidesz had already put in a suggestion to add 3,000 extra policemen and they even offered a financing solution but the government refused to even put it on the agenda. I don't have the time now to check this out but very often these so-called refusals to consider some excellent Fidesz ideas are not exactly historically accurate.

What about the composition of the government? According to Orbán there is a superabundance of excellent people. Moreover, he headed a government once already and therefore he has a keen sense of who will perform well. In any case, the structure of the government will have to change.

The final words were reserved for the current political leadership's "responsibility" and the fate that awaits them. There will be punishment for wrongdoing and there are "cases that need to be investigated involving the highest political leaders of the country." What a happy prospect for an ostensibly democratic country: past prime ministers, ministers, undersecretaries, police chiefs all in jail! Most of what he said about his government's plans were meaningless generalities. His vendetta against his political adversaries, on the other hand, is intense and focused. I'm sure he already has written up his hit list.

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Woe to her, who expects responsible quality journalism from Blikk: a scandal sheet with sex.
As to Orban and his modesty, just like myself, the only kind of modesty he knows is the false kind and he practices it in spades.
Perhaps that is why he forgot to mention that he is moonlighting as the founder and chief instructor of the Felcsut Academy of Chameleons.
Judging by the interview, he found his perfect outlet; that fits him and he fits it.

Ida Kiss

The sad truth is that most of the media has the same low standards.
During the Kadar era journalists were artist in hinting things “between the lines”, and the readers knew exactly how to decipher this double-deck communication.
Now journalists don’t know a thing about information, and impartiality. Those editors and journalists who had, they had been eliminated during the last cca. 18 years. See the tragic end of Magyar Hírlap.