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.