The new Hungarian Media Council

Although we still could talk about the environmental disaster around the town of Ajka, and I'm sure we will return to the topic, I would like to bring up another very important event that may change the political landscape for almost as long as the sludge changes the physical one. I mean the complete reorganization of government supervision of the media. I already wrote about the changes introduced and reactions at home and abroad to the portion of the law that has already been accepted. With the exception of committed right-wingers working for Fidesz papers, there was outrage. Some of the harsher critics compared the Hungarian law to that the Kazakhstan!

Governments on the whole are no friends of the media, and there is always the urge to control them if possible. In the last eight years, while in opposition, Fidesz systematically built a media empire and more or less managed to influence even the public television and radio programs. The work of "independent" boards overseeing public broadcasting was paralyzed by delegates appointed by Fidesz. For years, for example, MTV, Hungarian Public Television, has had no president because Fidesz was waiting for the 2010 elections in the hope that once in power they could be certain that their man would occupy the post.

The leadership at MTV, even without official guidance, knew what their duty was. Although I don't think that MTV's media personalities flaunt their political views, the leadership had a keen sense of who is considered to be undesirable in certain spots. Or perhaps they got a telephone call from above. Thus, some of the best reporters were "demoted." For example, Viktória Mészáros whom I considered to be the better of the two reporters on the late evening political program, Az Este, was shoved off to some mindless program for women. The guy who is rather mediocre remained, most likely because he didn't ask any hard questions from politicians. Szilvia Krizsó, another bright woman with her own Sunday night program, had to be satisfied with just being one of the four or five persons who conduct very boring interviews on Ma Reggel.

Fidesz's goal is to reorganize media supervision in such a way that the whole media will be under their thumb. The new law provides for a Media Council which consists of four people, each with a nine-year appointment–more than two election cycles. It is Viktor Orbán's prerogative to name the chairman.

This government moves quickly, and within a week the composition of the Media Council was determined. On October 4, a parliamentary committee was set up to nominate the council members and by today the members of the new body were sworn in. Here's a brief recap of the events.

The parliamentary committee was comprised of András Cser-Palkovics (Fidesz), chairman; Attila Mesterházy (MSZP), vice chairman; István Pálffy (KDNP); Sándor Pörzse (Jobbik); and Gergely Karácsony (LMP). Each party could suggest candidates for the Media Council. The committee's charge was to reach a unanimous decision within five days. If no unanimous decision could be reached, however, a two-thirds majority would suffice.

LMP tried to be cagey by suggesting as its candidate István Elek, a man who started his career in MDF and while a student at the University of Debrecen was the roommate of József Debreczeni. But their careers moved in different directions. Debreczeni moved toward the left and became an admirer of Ferenc Gyurcsány while Elek became an advisor to Viktor Orbán. He was the first editor-in-chief of Heti Válasz, a weekly established by the first Orbán government to be a mouthpiece of the right. He was also one of the founders of a right-wing Internet newspaper called Gondola.

MSZP suggested György Jánosi, a former MSZP parliamentary member. KDNP proposed Tamás Tirts, one of the founders of Fidesz. Jobbik put forth Béla Barkó. Four parties, four nominees. Then came Fidesz, which nominated four people! One party, four nominees for four places.

Last Friday the five members of the committee couldn't agree. What a surprise! So yesterday the Fidesz, KDNP, and Jobbik members (three out of five) voted for the four Fidesz nominees: János Auer, Tamás Kollárik, András Koltay, and Ágnes Vass. The Fidesz chairman, Cser-Palkovics, announced that their decision was based strictly on professional competence. No politics were involved. Gábor Horváth, one of the senior editors of Népszabadság, wittily remarked that "it must be true because the ceiling didn't fall down." He was referring to a Hungarian saying about the ceiling that can fall on someone who tells a big lie.

László Majtényi, the former chairman of the earlier board supervising the media, said that out of the four people he had heard of one, András Koltay, "because he wrote a few books." So much for professional excellence in the field of the media. MSZP called yesterday "the black Monday in the history of the media." According to László Mandur (MSZP) not one of the four members meets the requirements stated as prerequisites for the job. MSZP is still waiting for the decision of the constitutional court concerning the constitutionality of the law governing the media. I don't want to sound too pessimistic, but I don't expect much from the constitutional court.

And a footnote to this piece. There are rumors circulating–and normally almost every rumor in Hungary has some foundation–that the publicly funded but independent corporations (MTV, MR, and Duna TV) will simply be nationalized.

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Johnny Boy
Guest
I see things somewhat differently. From what I saw, the “outrage” you’re referring to was apparent in the “left-winged” media. Right-winged media just mentioned the facts without any comments (certainly without any negative comments), and all others seemed they couldn’t care less. This news on the Media Council is largely overshadowed by the news on the sludge situation. So now it looks as there are 4 Fidesz members and noone else. This is one-sided, you’re right. But I still don’t understand the problem. The voters gave a 2/3 majority to Fidesz in the parliament. In the council deciding on nominees, there were of course the same proportions. Fidesz members voted for Fidesz nominees, then the parliament appointed these nominees. Where’s the problem with that? This is still a much more democratic solution than what was earlier when different parties, regardless of their actual support, took part in the Council (ORTT) with the same weight. SZDSZ and “MDF”, with their almost non-existing voter support, often successfully controlled and even paralyzed the ORTT. I believe this was a really anti-democratic solution. In the advisory board the other parties also got positions, but they implicitly can’t be the majority against the governing party… Read more »
Alias3T
Guest

And for the next nine years, the will of that fraction of the population that voted Fidesz in spring 2010 shall not be thwarted.
I understand why *you’re* not bothered; though you might want to think about what happens when a government you don’t like is in power.

whoever
Guest

Johnny Boy, before bandying around the word ‘democratic,’ possibly have a think about some of the more advanced definitions of what comprises ‘checks and balances’ within a democratic state. These checks and balances are sometimes considered important in order to prevent a slide towards what can be called ‘elective dictatorship.’

Mark
Guest

Johnny Boy: “In the advisory board the other parties also got positions, but they implicitly can’t be the majority against the governing party as it would contradict the will of the voters.”
If you will excuse me, I’m afraid this is a definition of democracy I don’t understand. Perhaps Hungary ought to look at how these sorts of things are done in other democratic states, which have a rather better record for ensuring balanced and independent public service media. Take the BBC Trust, the British equivalent of this body where the trustees are appointed “on merit” against defined criteria. Regulators of media appointed “on merit”? In Hungary? It seems Hungary has to make do with the unqualified, the most stupid, the most bigotted, chaired by someone whose only media qualification was to have once owned a pronographic magazine in Zalaegerszeg.
Take a look at how the UK does it. Now, you could really create a “new era” if you followed this:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbctrust/about/who_we_are/trustees/appointment.shtml

Odins lost eye
Guest
Before the news of the events of 11th September 2001 in New York had stopped coming in some ‘charming little person’ in the U.K government sent an E-mail to the rest of the department, which said “Now is the time to bury bad news”. It is true. The Sludge Tsunami has probably buried quite a few little nasties. This is one of them . When any political party sets out to dominate the news media it is quite obvious that it wishes to create a ‘one party state. Blair and New Labour tried it and for a time it worked. However the size and structure of the media in the U.K and the rest of the English speaking world made this operation a ‘Mission Impossible’ In Hungary because of size of the population and the relatively few (compared to the English speaking world) language speakers, this task has been made much easier. To control of the media (and all other means of communication) is vital to all absolutist regimes (Communist, Fascist, or whatever). Fidesz has a similar ‘plan’ to become the ‘central guiding force of society’ and to create a true ‘nanny’ state. Johnny Boy a ‘Nanny’ is a person… Read more »
Johnny Boy
Guest

Mark: the way the British members are appointed may fit very nicely on your situation, but I believe in Hungary it is radically different. Most of the Hungarian media is actually funded and controlled by the parties, the “left-liberal” conglomerate was vastly overpowering all others so far but the situation now moved somewhat in direction towards a balance. While the state TV was always under the influence of the parties currently in power, both commercial terrestrial TVs (TV2, RTL Klub) have been (and still are) politically controlled by the left (and Gyula Horn’s government crafted a law on media with their 2/3 majority that guaranteed this situation in advance).
After their loss in 2002, the right created HírTV, and later Echo TV, but none of these are broadcasted terrestrially and thus have a much lower availability rate in Hungary.
And let me repeat that the new situation in the Media Council is a lot more democratic than it was in the past 8 years. You can still be discontent with it, maybe rightfully so, but then you are challenging the system itself, and should not be challenging only the current state when Fidesz got the majority it deserves.
Now with the Media Council

Alias3T
Guest

There hasn’t been a left-wing media bias for years.
The right-wing media has a problem, of course, but it’s one of its own making. The problem is that it’s crap, even by Hungarian standards.
HirTV is effectively one long live broadcast of Fidesz press conferences. Magyar Nemzet might as well be called “Szijjarto says”.
That’s why they’ve always failed to counterbalance the non-Fidesz media. For all its many faults, Nepszabadsag looks like a real newspaper. It reports, it sifts, and it runs stories that aren’t favourable to the Socialist Party.
The Fidesz papers and TV stations have been in campaign mode for years on end and have never troubled to earn any credibility.

whoever
Guest

It’s not going to stop at ‘balance’ though, is it? On past form, Fidesz will funnel government money into their own media outlets. The ‘Left’ doesn’t control RTL Klub in any sense of the word, and whilst it broadcasts the critical ‘Heti Hétes’ it also has right-wing comedians. I have seen many positive pieces about Viktor Orbán on TV2, including a number of easy interviews. The idea that RTL Klub is a ‘left’ version of EchoTV/HírTV is quite hilarious.
Another significant aspect which Eva highlights here is Jobbik’s role. Between them, Fidesz and Jobbik now account for nearly 70% of the Hungarian electorate. If they’ve cut a deal, it could result in an upsurge of state-funded anti-foreigner, anti-Semitic, anti-gypsy propaganda. And this is a situation that the EU would be forced to investigate.

Alias3T
Guest

We can also expect another round of government-funded patriotic films about approved national heroes.
Szechenyi was done last time, so was Bank ban. I wonder who comes next? Anybody missing from the list?
Maybe a Horthy film.

Johnny Boy
Guest

whoever: you seem to know the future, I envy you for that. Let me remind you that so far only the left has had a considerable overpower in media. I understand that now that things are changing it is outrageous for the left – but that’s the way it should be. Most of Hungary is not “left-liberal” and the press should reflect it. There’s still a long way to go for right-winged media to get as strong as the left one. I’m not a fan of biased media, to either side: I’d like BBCs all over Hungary. But this is just completely impossible in the current situation.
Moreover, Fidesz has nothing to do with Jobbik. The latter became less significant in the latest elections, even. You seem to try to incorporate your antipathy towards Jobbik into the Fidesz-led government, which I don’t understand.
Arguments about the quality of the right-wing media being inferior to the left are, let me be discreet, …weak. Népszabadság, who published a makeshift, falsified letter in the name of the world famous but already dead Edward Teller, and then had its editor-in-chief promoted, was the absolute nadir for all media in Hungary.

Alias3T
Guest

No it wasn’t. HirTV regularly sets the bar far, far lower than that.
Now can I tell you again: there isn’t a left-wing preponderance in the media. There are a lot of foaming-mouthed right wing media outlets. Two TV stations, two newspapers, three or four magazines. Just about all the local papers. There are a number of leftish papers, magazines and TV stations which are far, far less loyal to the Socialist party than their right-wing equivalents are to Fidesz. This has been the case for as long as I’ve been reading the Hungarian media, so about 10 years.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Alias3T: “There are a number of leftish papers, magazines and TV stations which are far, far less loyal to the Socialist party than their right-wing equivalents are to Fidesz. This has been the case for as long as I’ve been reading the Hungarian media, so about 10 years.”
Take Magyar Nemzet. I have never read anything there mildly critical of Orbán, Fidesz, or now the government. Lately they decided to attack Matolcsy, but this is most likely a sign of some kind of in-fighting within the government party. Sloppy reporting, accusing people without sufficient evidence to back up their claims–in brief, the standards are very low. Thousands of times they had to retract. Junk. Foaming at the mouth. Beyond description. Once I compared an issue of Magyar Nemzet to other less politically committed publications. It was an amazing exercise. Actually, I might repeat it because it would give a clearer idea to the reaters what Alias3T and others on this blog are talking about.

Johnny Boy
Guest

Eva: you probably overlooked the fact that Magyar Nemzet attacked the Fidesz viewpoint when they agreed with the then-government to send troops to Iraq. This was quite a stir back then.
HírTV is the most important medium in Hungary, and I say this because the vast majority of the scandals that are now under prosecution stage were surfaced by HírTV. This is proven by the many awards they’ve received from different bodies.

Passing Stranger
Guest

@Maybe a Horthy film.
I suggest a rock opera.

Alias3T
Guest

With Horthy singing a power ballad and looking conflicted as his son sits in jail – “I only ever wanted Transylvaniaaaaaaaah!”

Alias3T
Guest

HirTV uncovered lots of scandals that are now being investigated by the politically independent judiciary.
I’ll keep repeating that until I burst out laughing.

Passing Stranger
Guest

Exactly. Don’t cry for me Transylvania.

Johnny Boy
Guest

Alias3T: until you can’t counter any of the specific charges against those in arrest now, you have no arguments to support your claim.

Alias3T
Guest

No, I just have to note the astonishing number of cases against former SZDSZ and MSZP politicians, and the absence of prosecutor interest in the vast number of curious dealings in which Fidesz politicians have been involved. Either Fidesz is white as snow, or there’s another explanation.

Johnny Boy
Guest

Those charges against SZDSZ and MSZP politicians are almost all about thefts of significant amounts of money. According to the news sources, there are evidences for those thefts and these are not nullified by completely unsupported statements suggesting that judiciary is working on political grounds.
As for the cases where Fidesz politicians were involved, there was a man named László Keller whose “job” was to prosecute Fidesz politicians. He had 3 years and a whole bunch of lawyers working for him, yet he reached a completely 0% success.
I know many blame this on Péter Polt, the supreme prosecutor at that time, but the truth is that approx. 80% of these cases ended in the police investigation phase without proposal for the prosecution to raise charges. And the police was under command of the Ministry of Internal Affairs at that time, with its head Mónika Lamperth, a prominent MSZP politician.
So, considering these facts, the most probable conclusion we can draw from all this is that there is a significant difference between MSZP/SZDSZ and Fidesz politicians’ propensity to corruption. And it’s not the MSZP/SZDSZ side that is favored by this comparison.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Johnny Boy: “Those charges against SZDSZ and MSZP politicians are almost all about thefts of significant amounts of money.”
Keep it in mind that these charges are only unsubstantiated charges. We will see whether these people are actually guilty or not.

Johnny Boy
Guest

Eva: what makes a charge unsubstantiated or not? A charge is a charge, there are no quality categories. A charge is what prosecution raises and they go to court with the defendant. A charge is raised by prosecution if the police has come to the conclusion that it forwards the case to the prosecution with a proposal to raise charges, or if the prosecution itself investigated and came to the conclusion that there is a substantial suspicion (“alapos gyanú”) that the given person has committed the crime.
Let me call your attention to the fact that the vast majority of the prosecution’s charges ends up with a legally binding conviction (AFAIK over 95%).

Kormos
Guest

This well organized and professionally constructed web page carries the title of Hungarian Spectrum.
One would think that such title should attract lot of people who wants to help their old or present Country.
Unfortunately no. I see criticism only, while the Country is trying to redeem herself from eight years of devastating, so called neo-liberal and left wing trial and error Government. Who is benefiting from such site?
Galamus’ Spectrum or Ms. Eva S. Baloghs Spectrum would probably be more fitting.

Odin's Lost Eye
Guest
Oh Johnny Boy you have written ** “.A charge is raised by prosecution if the police has come to the conclusion that it forwards the case to the prosecution with a proposal to raise charges, or if the prosecution itself investigated and came to the conclusion that there is a substantial suspicion (“alapos gyanú”) that the given person has committed the crime” **. This in European terms is total ‘Hogwash’! A charge is only raised if there is sufficient evidence to obtain a prosecution. Suspicion is not enough there has to be evidence real evidence. (By the way evidence is a collective noun which is never written in the plural format) Hello Kormos, which part are you going to play, Morecombe or Wise? You say ** “This well organized and professionally constructed web page carries the title of Hungarian Spectrum. One would think that such title should attract lot of people who wants to help their old or present Country. Unfortunately no I see criticism only.” **. You are quite correct there is criticism but only where it is deserved, and there is also praise where it is due. Most of us who are critical, are the type of people… Read more »
Johnny Boy
Guest

Odin’s Lost Eye: “alapos gyanú” is a legal term in Hungarian, which literally translates to “substantial suspicion”. If this terminology is not used in English, that’s a language difference then. If there is “alapos gyanú” for something, it means the prosecution practically has evidences to prove the guilt.
Besides this, what is your point actually?

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Johnny Boy: “”alapos gyanú” is a legal term in Hungarian, which literally translates to “substantial suspicion”.
Well, it seems that there was neither “alapos gyanú” nor evidence in the case of Zoltán Bakonyi because the court ordered his immediate release.

Mark
Guest

Johnny Boy: “the way the British members are appointed may fit very nicely on your situation, but I believe in Hungary it is radically different.”
I’m afraid I don’t believe that because there is a left-wing journalistic cesspool, balance is created by creating a right-wing journalistic cesspool with state money.
And the argument “in Hungary it is not possible; it is different” basically means that Johnny Boy believes Hungarians are not capable of running a professional and impartial public service. Now for a supporter of a “patriotic” party, that seems to me to be a pretty weird position to take. And I’m afraid I don’t accept it for a minute.

Johnny Boy
Guest

Eva: what charge has been raised against Zoltán Bakonyi? Is he an MSZP/SZDSZ politician? If none and not, how does his case come here?
Moreover, according to latest news, about 20 testimonies have been recorded that are against Bakonyi. He was set free despite of this; the prosecution appealed against it. This game is not over yet.
Mark: this is not rocket science. As there is a large left-winged cesspool (formerly created mainly by state money anyway), you can’t achieve balance unless you create a right-winged cesspool.
(By the way, what state money has been invested in HírTV and EchoTV, which pretty much constitute the right’s cesspool?)
If you miss impartial media in Hungary, you are right; but don’t say it to me, say it to the left’s cesspool that has crippled Hungary’s media in the past 20 years.

Kormos
Guest

Hello Odin’s Lost Eye: I guess we all would like to see Hungary as a proper, modern state. The only problem is that even educated people differ on what are the attributes of a proper and modern state. I would appreciate if you could enlighten readers of this venue and define proper and modern regarding a state.
Moreover, I would like if you could name a proper and modern state that exists today, since Hungary might need an example to follow. I might want to move there if I could afford it.

Odin's Lost Eye
Guest
Johnny Boy. I think the problem lies in the words “Suspect/Suspicion”. Perhaps something is being lost in translation. This loss may be occurring in both directions. There is perhaps a difference between the U.K and Hungary, in the way in which evidence is tested. In the U.K the police gather the evidence and build their case. The evidence is passed to the Crown Prosecution Service who, unlike the police who may have become very involved in the case, test the evidence looking for the lack of robustness in witnesses, conflicting evidence and the 100 and 1 other things that could destroy the case. Remember in the U.K the actual trial is an adversitorial process with very able Barristers acting on both sides. So in effect the CPS is trying to destroy the police case. If the CPS fail to destroy the case it then comes to court where the crown must prove its case beyond “All Reasonable Doubt” and Juries are notoriously sceptical. Back to ‘suspicion’ A crime has been committed and a Mr ‘X’ is suspected. The only evidence against him is that he was seen nearby by someone. If the defence got hold of the fact that the… Read more »
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