At first I thought I would write about the uselessness of the Hungarian practice of campaign silence. It was unnecessary twenty years ago but in the age of the Internet it is truly ridiculous. Every Hungarian political site starts off saying: "Campaign silence: For older news, click here!" You click and a second later every bit of political news concerning the campaign that was written before midnight of April 23 is at your fingertips.
However, campaign silence is good for one thing, at least from my vantage point: at last I have a little time to catch up with news I missed over the week. I usually read the hundreds of items released by the Hungarian news service MTI (Magyar Távirati Iroda) and the more important daily papers, but often I don't have time to see MTV's early morning political show Ma Reggel (This morning). And yesterday I learned from one of the MTI releases that Ildikó Lendvai, chairwoman of MSZP, accused the media of partiality toward Fidesz politicians because the reporters know that soon it will be Fidesz that butters their bread. She brought up two examples, both involving Lajos Kósa, one of the deputy chairmen of Fidesz, who had a rather unfortunate encounter with Olga Kálmán on April 12 during an interview on her Straight Talk (Egyenes beszéd ). I saw that interview at the time and I thoroughly enjoyed watching Lajos Kósa, who is never at a loss for words, being flustered when he couldn't find appropriate responses to Kálmán's probing questions about the Kubatov affair. I first wrote about this embarrassing business on April 7 ("A bit awkward: Fidesz caught red handed") and two days later in "Further developments in the Kubatov affair." Admittedly it was difficult to explain away the contents of the leaked tapes, but Kósa handled the questions surprisingly poorly. He must have realized that he didn't sound convincing and that Kálmán was basically making fun of him. He was getting redder and redder and at the end he pretty well warned Kálmán that from here on he will insist that only those topics can be covered that he has approved in advance. The reporter, on the other hand, insisted that a reporter is allowed to ask any question whatsoever. The politician has the right not to answer and Kósa could have avoided this embarrassing situation by simply saying at the very beginning that he knows nothing whatsoever about the whole thing.
Lendvai's other example also involved Lajos Kósa exactly one week later, on April 19, on the early morning show of MTV. There is a segment in this program called Szemközt (Face to Face) in which the invited guest must answer questions from the anchorman as well as from two invited outside journalists. Normally they ask reporters from opposite sides of the political spectrum to participate. On this occasion one of the reporters was Ildikó Csuhaj of Népszabadság, who apparently told Kósa before they went on camera that she intended to ask him questions concerning the Kubatov affair. At that point Kósa lost his cool, started to dismantle the mike already attached to his lapel, and began walking out of the room. He told the reporters that he came here to talk about the elections and the future of local governments, not about Kubatov. The reporters convinced him to stay, but Csuhaj in the last minute told Kósa that it was impossible not to ask the deputy chairman of Fidesz about Kubatov's lists. At that point Kósa stopped dead in his tracks and began dismantling his mike for the second time. The anchorman who wanted to have the already announced program on the air begged him to stay and promised not to mention Kubatov.
Lendvai felt that this kind of media response doesn't bode well for the future when it seems that reporters will not be able to ask questions from Fidesz politicians. This is not just a figment of Lendvai's imagination. In opposition certain Fidesz politicians refused to give interviews to reporters who asked tough questions or were deemed not sympathetic to Fidesz. In the last couple of years Fidesz went even further. The party insisted on the removal of certain reporters from Nap-kelte (Sunrise), the predecessor of the current early morning political show. MTV obliged, but that didn't satisfy Fidesz whose politicians decided to boycott the show. And finally, MTV, most likely under Fidesz pressure, broke its contract with the producers of Nap-kelte. From past behavior the independence of the Hungarian media is not at all assured.
While I was doing a little research for this post I happened upon an interview with Ildikó Lendvai on Ma Reggel. I must say that Lendvai is better in opposition than she was when her party was in power. Her performance leads me to believe that MSZP will not be entirely powerless in opposition. It might be in parliament but when it comes to the war of words there is hope.