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.