Politics and the media

I don't think one can overemphasize the role of the media in disseminating the messages of political parties. Viktor Orbán in a conversation with József Debreczeni in 2002, a few weeks after Fidesz lost the elections, talked about the necessity for a party to have robust media support. He said that József Antall inherited a media that was openly sympathetic to either MSZP or SZDSZ and that he had never managed to have even one newspaper that would look at the world through the government's glasses. Thus, when Orbán became prime minister he immediately began building, mostly on government money, a Fidesz friendly media. By the time he lost the elections the foundations of a Fidesz media empire were already laid. Since then right-wing "oligarchs" have put billions and billions into print and electronic media with spectacular results. There is an overwhelmingly right-wing media in place in Hungary.

Among the many mistakes the MSZP-SZDSZ coalition made in the last eight years was that it made no effort whatsoever to promote a media friendly toward the ideas of the left. Interestingly enough, "the government of oligarchs" didn't manage to find an oligarch or two who, like their right-wing counterparts, would put a few million into newspapers or radio or TV stations that were left-leaning. As it is, most liberal papers are shoestring operations whose financial futures are not at all assured. At the same time Fidesz's media empire is growing. The latest is that the owner of Heti Válasz, a more moderate right-wing weekly, just purchased IKO Média Holding Zrt. which owns 31% of M-RTL Zrt. M-RTL operates the most popular television station in Hungary, the RTL Klub. Tamás Fellegi, who was the majority shareholder in IKO Média Holding, most likely sold the company because he will be one of Viktor Orbán's ministers.

Hungary's only liberal television station, ATV, is owned by the Assembly of God. In the evening it broadcasts Hungarian translations of the 700 Club! The other liberal electronic media outlet is Klub Rádió, an FM station that can be heard in Budapest and in a couple of other places in the country. For the last twenty years Klub Rádió has been broadcasting from 97.7 FM, but next year their use of that frequency will expire and the frequency will no long be available for FM broadcasting. So Klub Rádió applied for the only remaining Budapest FM frequency. Its competitor was Katolikus Rádió. The board of ORTT, the organization in charge of matters concerning radio and television stations on which the socialist and liberal delegates are currently in the majority, gave it to Klub Rádió. Annamária Szalai, a Fidesz delegate on the board, was outraged because, as she quite openly admitted, they wrote the tender in such a way that it was tailored for Catholic Radio. And, she continued, "the prepared nest has been occupied by a cuckoo." She went on and on, arguing that Klub Rádió cannot have two frequencies, neglecting to mention that Klub Rádió will relinquish its old frequency as soon as it is in possession of the new one (92.2).

Stop.hu received information to the effect that the new government is planning to create one organization out of ORTT and the National Communication Authority (Nemzeti Hírközlési Hatóság), which is responsible for electronic communications as well as postal and IT services. That by itself may be a rational decision, and I was glad to read that it may not be political parties who delegate members to the board. At the same time I became worried when I saw that this new organization would "also supervise the Internet." What does this mean? Could the staff of this organization check the contents of Hungarian Internet sites and shut down anything not to their liking? Because right now ORTT can suspend television stations from broadcasting for a period of time if they are deemed guilty of not obeying the "objectivity requirements" of ORTT. Let's say that Mr. Kovács didn't like what Mr. Nagy, the reporter, said to one of the politicians. He can complain to ORTT, which then decides on the guilt or innocence of Mr. Nagy.

Rumor has it that Annamária Szalai, who prepared the nest of Katolikus Rádió so nicely, will be charge of this new organization. Everybody who knows Ms. Szalai must realize that this is potentially very bad news.

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Vándorló
Guest

@ESBalogh: You condoned the MSZP-Fidesz actions over rádiógate that led to the resignation of an honest man, Majtényi László, over the scandal and now you are concerned that the puppet promoted in his place is continuing as expected?
MSZP has 8 clear years to clear up government and put these matters well beyond Fidesz’s easy grasp. Instead they chose to work with Fidesz to stitch up the country, undermine democracy and spit in the face of honest people and their own laws.
I’ve detailed the faux efforts and dishonest cover Gyurcsány provided as a smoke screen to continue as usual – the international organisations (plural) that walked away appalled by the inaction, lack of transparency or just plain disdain for democratic principles.
Eight years, after which nothing changed. No-one feels themselves accountable, the people feel bitterly cheated and Orbán’s actions just look like more of the same.
It is all completely disgusting and we know who to thank.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Vándorló: “You condoned the MSZP-Fidesz actions over rádiógate”
Condoned? I don’t like when people distort my words. I said the following:
“Being a pragmatist, I wasn’t especially upset about the “deal” if there was one. If the media law is written in such a way that it allows politics not just to interfere in but to direct the media outright and one party is taking full advantage of this situation then the other side must act accordingly. The other side is practically forced into making “deals” however distasteful that maybe.”
I think I made it quite clear that the law itself is to blame that allows the media to be prey to politics. But at least there were two stations in question and an equitable “deal,” however distasteful, could be made. This time there was only one station, the very last one in the capital city that would have been added to the numerous other right-wing outlets. It doesn’t sound terribly fair to me.

Vándorló
Guest
@ESBalogh: I think it’s unfair to say that I have attempted to distort your words when this is the first time you have deigned to respond to this question despite my repeated attempt to engage you on such matters. This is at least the third time I’ve raised this matter and the first time you have chosen to respond. Your central reasoning is that the law ‘allowed’ such ‘deals’. As I stated in my comment on 23rd Feb 2010 on this blog “It wasn’t even in doubt that the law had been broken, head of ORTT Dr. Majtényi László refused to sign and stepped down rather than break the law. This was all detailed in a statement he issued ( http://www.ortt.hu/hirek.php?hir_id=457 ) which the courts upheld in full.” These breaches of the law were all upheld when the case came to court. Gyurcsány and the whole MSZP remained silent on the whole matter. Only Bajnai spoke out, but he isn’t MSZP anyway. The question remains why MSZP condoned such ‘deals’. You say this was necessary, how so? No-one else sees why a ‘democratic’ party needs to break the law. They were in power, why was it necessary? To whose benefit… Read more »
Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Vandorló: “this is the first time you have deigned to respond to this question despite my repeated attempt to engage you on such matters.”
And it was a mistake.

gio
Guest

“There is an overwhelmingly right-wing media in place in Hungary.”
In what segment of the media?
Let’s consider national political newspapers, for example. The number of copies sold in q4/2009 (latest data for daily averages):
Left:
Népszabadság 80.647
Népszava 18.107
Right:
Magyar Nemzet 47.804
Magyar Hírlap 14.686
Altogether 3 to 2 for the left. It is true that 10 years ago the ratio was about 4 to 1 for the left and the media hegemony of the left, inherited from communist times, has slowly melted. It was high time…

Vándorló
Guest
@ESBalogh: “And it was a mistake.” ? Here’s what I find difficult to understand about your complaints about how ORTT are now acting: 1. There use to be an honest head of ORTT, one that was not politically partisan and even employed people sympathetic to Fidesz, though he had been appointed by Gyurcsány (you complained about this elsewhere on this blog). 2. He acted within the law and did what he was told to do. Namely, makes sure that the media laws are upheld and the media landscape cleaned up. 3. MSZP and Fidesz decided they didn’t like the existing laws and deliberately and in full knowledge that they were breaking the laws decided to appoint their own politically connected media agents. 4. This forced the head of ORTT into a position he could not legally do anything else, within the law. As head of ORTT he is legally required to sign the contracts. But in signing the contracts he would have been breaking the law. 5. He did what any decent person would do: he refused, stepped down and detailed in full the legal reasons for his actions. 6. These details were available to all parties, to the media… Read more »
Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Maybe you don’t want to understand me. The law is at fault. It doesn’t matter whether Majtényi is honest or not. If the law governing the ORTT is what it is then it makes no difference whether the chairman is honest or not.
As long as this law is in effect this practice will continue. But at least in the earlier instance there were two frequencies and therefore some kind of deal could be made between the parties. However, in this case there was only one frequency and that one was fixed in such a way that one party could benefit. That is my problem.

Vándorló
Guest

@ESBalogh: “As long as this law is in effect this practice will continue.” The law was and is fine. The problem was the law was broken. That political parties have complete disdain for the law. That they act for their own gain and that of their parties’ and care nothing for the rights of common people.
MSZP and Fidesz acted illegally. Not because of a bad law. They acted *outside the law*. The court case decided this to be the case.
It wasn’t that the law was a bad one, it was that the political parties decided that they didn’t like the law. The courts up held that the law was broken, the embassies complained that the law was broken and the head of ORTT resigned rather than be part of this illegal cabal.
MSZP and the morally bankrupt left joined forces with Fidesz to undermine any future claim to the moral high ground.
The main point in relation to your blog post is that Annamária Szalai would not be where she is to day were it not for MSZP indirectly helping her.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Vándorló: “The law was and is fine. The problem was the law was broken.”
Not really. The problem is that the representatives of the parties are in charge of deciding who gets and who doesn’t get frequency.
Why, the law’s spirit at least not broken when they write the tender in such a way that they have only one station in mind and that station happens to be the Catholic Radio? That is what Annamária Szalai and her friends did. It is clear that the whole thing stinks with or without Majtényi.

John T
Guest

What disappoints me is that we should be encouraging a free media that is not so deeply entwined with the political parties. Sure, the newspapers / TV channels will doubtless support a party, as they do in the UK. The Daily Telegraph for example is known as the Torygraph for its heavy support of the Conservatives, but it’s has been highly critical of the Tories on occasions (it led the campaign on the expenses scandal). But it is independent and people would not take kindly to the system that exists in Hungary, as there would be no critical analysis of what Government is doing. The BBC also has to operate under a charter where it is meant to be impartial.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

John T.: “What disappoints me is that we should be encouraging a free media that is not so deeply entwined with the political parties.”
Every organ has a certain outlook, liberal, conservative, green, whatever. The Hungarian right-wing papers, Magyar Nemzet, Magyar Hírlap are servile mouthpieces of Fidesz. Never one critical word can be read in these papers about Fidesz policies or politicians. Népszabadság is a liberal paper but much more balanced. Népszava calls itself a “szociáldemokrata napilap.” After all, it was the official organ of the Magyar Szociáldemokrata Párt until 1948.
Everybody knows in the United States that The New York Times is a liberal paper, closer to the ideals of the Democratic Party while The Wall Street Journal is more conservative. There is nothing wrong with this. The trouble comes when newsmen become propagandists of a party and unfortunately that is the case in Hungary.

John T
Guest

Eva – thats my point. The politicians in Hungary meddle too much. MTV for instance should really be completely non-partisan as a state supported entity. The Government should provide money onlt – no other influence. Appointments to the CEO & other main positions should also be made by an independent body, that is properly accountable and transparent.
Going hand in hand with media reform though, the Civil Service should also be non-political, with professionals hired under an ethical code to serve the government / people regardless of the political party. There should be far less political appointees, just ministers and junior ministers really.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

John T: “Eva – thats my point. The politicians in Hungary meddle too much. MTV for instance should really be completely non-partisan as a state supported entity.”
Great, then we agree. By the way, the director in charge of news at MTV is leaving. I bet not on his own volition. Perhaps he was too balanced. I don’t know, but I know that earlier he was parliamentary reporter for Népszabadság.

gio
Guest

“Népszabadság is a liberal paper but much more balanced.”
Actually Népszabadság is the only party newspaper among the four national political dailies since it is partly owned by the Socialist (ex-communist) Party via its “Free Press Foundation” (hehe). People at Népszabadság are paid to promote the Socialist Party and that is what they actually do. It seems, Eva, that your ideal of balanced journalism is Socialist Party journalism.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Gio: “Actually Népszabadság is the only party newspaper among the four national political dailies since it is partly owned by the Socialist (ex-communist) Party via its “Free Press Foundation” (hehe”
Well, the “hehe” is misplaced here because you’re entirely wrong. Nepszabadság is owned by the Swiss Ringier and has nothing to do whatsoever with MSZP

gio
Guest

See the article about Népszabadság in the Hungarian Wikipedia:
http://hu.wikipedia.org/wiki/N%C3%A9pszabads%C3%A1g
The stake of MSZP in Népszabadság is 27 %, if I am right (have not checked).

Peregrine
Guest

Delurking, as someone who recently found your blog and enjoys reading it, even when disagreeing.
I wonder if you yourself really believed what you wrote about Hungarian media being overwhelmingly right-wing. It is clear that you have very strong biases in how you choose to interpret facts, and that is fine, but this smacks of willful misrepresentation of facts, which is not fine. I find it hard to believe that you were not aware of the statistics that gio posted (and if you were not, you should perhaps be more careful about pronouncing on the topic in the first place).

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Well Peregrine, you are wrong. Moreover, I don’t ever willfully distort facts. As a historian I would find that distasteful.
There is no question that almost 80-90% of the Hungarian media outlets by now are in the hands of those who support the right. Practically all the local papers in middle-size or smaller towns, for example. There are two daily papers serving the whole country but it is more important that the public television station is also in their hands. So is Duna TV. And there are two other television stations that are unabashadly Fidesz or even Jobbik supporters: HirTV and Echo TV. In addition, there are several weeklies. The Internet is full of right-wing online papers and almost no liberal electronic papers can be found.
There is no question that I’m right about the overwhelming presence of the right in the Hungarian media. It wasn’t that way eight years ago but since then Orbán has been working very hard to get strong media backing.

John T
Guest

Peregrine et all – it serves nobodies interest for the media to follow (some slavishly) or be in the pocket of any political party. Otherwise, there is no critical / constructive analysis of party programmes, corruption, graft etc. Politicians need to be reminded that they are actually mere mortals like the rest of us.

Peregrine
Guest

Eva, I appreciate the reply. It leaves me puzzled, however.
“There are two daily papers serving the whole country.” According to the European Journalism Centre, there are 10 national dailies (http://www.ejc.net/media_landscape/article/hungary/)
Of the significant ones, I count:
1. Népszabadság (Left)
2. Magyar Nemzet (Right)
3. Népszava (L)
4. Magyar Hírlap (R)
That’s national “broadsheets” in order of magnitude of circulation.
Then there are the tabloids like Blikk and Bors, as well as Metro, that far outstrip the circulation of the above. Surely you don’t claim that these are right-wing.
Duna TV, Hír TV and Echo TV are undoubtedly right-wing. They are far less popular, than, say, RTL Klub, one of whose flagship programmes is Heti Hetes, an out and out left-wing political talk-show in comic garb. If you have any data to back up the claim that the broadcast media is overwhelmingly right-wing, please share. I would be very interested, because my impression has been the exact opposite.
John T: on that I absolutely agree! I wasn’t trying to make the point that it is good for the country to have the media evenly in the various parties’ pockets; merely that I disagree that the media are overwhelmingly in the right-wing parties’ pockets.

Peregrine
Guest

PS. Despite my handle, I am in no way related to Vándorló. 😉

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Peregrine: “Duna TV, Hír TV and Echo TV are undoubtedly right-wing. They are far less popular, than, say, RTL Klub”
RTL Klub was just brought up by a future minister of Viktor Orbán. Just wait.
Blikk and Bors are tabloids and I don’t consider them to be serious organs but even they are turning toward the right. Blikk has one long portrait of the Orbán family after the other. On the Internet, Index is on the right and we didn’t mention papers that are published by the local governments mostly in Fidesz hands. Then, we mustn’t forget about Helyi Théma which sounds absolutely horrific. Oh, yes, I forgot about InfoRadio.
I don’t think I mentioned Magyar Demokrata (Bencsik), Magyar Fórum, now Vona’s Barikád, the new literary weekly in which Orbán’s speech at Kötcse appeared (I forgot its name). One can go on and on. Every media analyst agrees that Fidesz and the right in general has a commanding lead in the Hungarian media market.
Most people read the local papers mostly in the hands of Axel Springer which are without exception are on the right. That the situation.

Paul
Guest

Check out where the media allocated their attention in the election campaign. this is perhaps the best possible way to quantitatively assess media preferences, rather than instinctively ascribing a personal bias:
comment image
draw your own conclusions.
it will be interesting to see how various media outlets deal with jobbik, now that the total-boycott strategy (as illustrated clearly in this graph) is increasing untenable, and possibly even unprofitable. i don’t expect to see them receive proportion time allocation anytime soon.

John T
Guest

Paul – To a fair degree, parties get coverage when they make news, so no doubt, when Jobbik do something newsworthy, their portion of the news coverage will increase. I’m sure that young Gabor, attention seeker that he is, will want to keep in the limelight anyway.

Peregrine
Guest
Eva, thank you again for the reply. As an academic myself, the part on ‘every media analyst agrees’ without specific references is not particularly convincing (I do of course recognise that this is a blog written in your free time and not an academic publication, not even a newspaper). I am sure that every left wing media analyst agrees 🙂 Whyever would the tabloids not publish portraits of the Orbán family? It’s pretty topical. An acquaintance had the misfortune of having to read tabloids on a daily basis for his work for years, and I am reliably informed that there were full of portraits of left-wingers, in fact the overall impression he had was always that the rag papers were much more favourable towards left wing politicians. So there 😉 (anecdone not constituting evidence) Back to the serious point, once again, it’s topical, and happens with whoever wins elections. Just listing off right wing publications without left wing ones also strikes me as, how to put it as to not offend – odd? You mention some new literary weekly, why don’t you mention ÉS? Why don’t you mention HVG? The left wing portals? Also, I distinctly do not have the… Read more »
Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Peregrine: “I am sure that every left wing media analyst agrees :)”
You know what? You’re right! The poor right-wing media are at a huge advantage. Useless to argue any further.

wpDiscuz