Stiffening attitudes in the Hungarian media

Yesterday an unusual article appeared in Népszabadság entitled “Helyreigazításnak nincs helye,” loosely translated as “Correction denied.” As it turned out, the newspaper published an article on December 10 in which two reporters, Imre Bednárik and Máté Nyusztay, wrote about the structural reorganization of the state-owned media.

Before I get to the real bones of contention, I should describe one change. MTI will reduce the number of employees to 100-150 people while only 49 people will be employed at each of the two television stations (MTV and Duna) and at Magyar Rádió (MR). One doesn’t have to know much about the structure of these public media providers to become suspicious: Why 49 people? Isn’t that an odd number? What is behind the move? Soon enough the answer came: according to Hungarian labor laws an organization with 50 or more employees must allow the workers to have something called “üzemi tanács,” a council with an elected head who represents the interests of the employees vis-à-vis the employer. With a staff of 49 people no representative council. Isn’t it clever! And what will happen to the rest of the people? They will be employed by the Műsorszolgáltatás Támogató és Vagyonkezelő Alap, a fund that will assist in programming and will also handle the assets of the public media providers.

Back to the main story. The new Media Council headed by Annamária Szalai last Friday demanded that a correction be published by the Népszabadság because according to the members of the council the article made several erroneous statements about Annamária Szalai. There were three complaints. The article stated that (1) Annamária Szalai, the chairman of the Council, will be the new “chief-chief” of more than a thousand employees; (2) the assets of the public media providers from here on “will be part of a Fund” supervised by Annamária Szalai; and (3) Annamária Szalai has complete control over the Fund.

The Media Council objected to the description of Szalai as “chief-chief” because “the media tsarina,” as some people have already taken to calling her, has no direct say in the affairs of the Fund. According to the letter the Media Council sent to Népszabadság, Szalai has only the right to name the Fund’s chairman and vice-chairman. Népszabadság, in its answer that was also published, inquired whether Viktor Orbán is not the “chief-chief” of Rózsa Hoffmann, undersecretary of education, even though between them there is the minister, Miklós Réthelyi.

As for the second complaint, the Media Council stated that the Fund is a legal entity that is supervised not by Annamária Szalai but by the Media Council. And who is the head of the Media Council?  Annamária Szalai! Népszabadság draws again on a government example. It is not the state led by Viktor Orbán that expropriated the assets of the private pension funds but the state that is being run by the government whose prime minister is Viktor Orbán. Third, the Media Council strenuously objected to the statement that Szalai has control over the Fund. That is wrong: the Media Council has control over the Fund! Yes? And who is the head of the Media Council? None other than Annamária Szalai.

Therefore, Népszabadság refused the Media Council’s request for a printed correction. For good measure they wrote that if the chairman of the Media Council doesn’t like the answer she can go to court. At least this is what the current law stipulates. The new media law, if it passes–and it will, will not allow Népszabadság to appeal to the courts. If Annamária Szalai doesn’t like the wording of an article, the Media Council can immediately fine Népszabadság 25 million forints in addition to the 2 million forints the editor-in-chief would have to pay personally for allowing such terrible slander to appear in the paper.

It is quite clear that the article didn’t contain any untrue facts. The Media Council simply didn’t like the way they were presented. They came up with some legalistic objections which from here on they themselves could apply without the assistance of the legal profession. Népszabadság added that if the new media law passes they will go to the Constitutional Court, but until then with “the greatest respect” they refuse the request for a correction.

Off topic, but you might be interested in a picture of the Orbán family visiting Pope Benedict XVI. I must say that black is not the best color, especially on children:

 

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Thomas
Guest

I know it is not the main subject of the article but it illustrates the two faces of Orban and Fidesz. I refer to Orban’s audience with the Pope. Hopefully he did not shout “Csuhások kifelé” which translates roughly “Out with the men of the cloth”. A slogan Fidesz used early on in parliament showing their dislike and disrespect towards the Church. How times have changed, he became a pious man.
I wonder if one will be able to print similar remarks on a Hungarian blog without serious fines in 20011.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Thomas: “I know it is not the main subject of the article but it illustrates the two faces of Orban and Fidesz.”
Originally I even wrote a few lines about Orbán and religion but at the end I scrapped it. Too big a topic to just stick it next to a picture.
I have a couple of other pictures of Orbán which I found fascinating but no occasion yet to use them. But that’s coming too.

Paul
Guest

Thomas, I think even the Great Viktator will not be around by 20011.

Mutt Damon
Guest

This is just part of the “Papal Etiquette” including the veil on grown women.

An
Guest

Freedom House also reports on the Hungarian media law. “This legislation, combined with other troubling moves against the media, will be a major setback for press freedom in Hungary,” said Karin Karlekar, Managing Editor of Freedom House’s annual Freedom of the Press index.
See the press release here:
http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=70&release=1292

Koroly Péter
Guest
The South and East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO) would like to announce the following: Vienna, 14 December 2010 – The International Press Institute (IPI) and its affiliate, the South and East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), will hold a press freedom fact-finding mission to Hungary on 15-16 December 2010. The mission participants will be: SEEMO Secretary General Oliver Vujovic, SEEMO Board Member Marta Palics, and IPI Press Freedom and Communications Manager Anthony Mills. They will be a meeting with a broad array of journalists and state officials. The mission comes at a particularly worrying time for press freedom in Hungary. In early December, several Hungarian newspapers published blank front pages to protest against legislation which they warn curtails press freedom. In recent months, IPI and SEEMO have also expressed concern at legislative efforts – described by the ruling party as necessary media reform – to limit press freedom in Hungary. Legislation currently being discussed in parliament envisages granting the official media watchdog the power to levy sizeable fines on private media outlets, and to sanction media outlets for “unbalanced coverage” and transgressions against the rules on covering “sex, violence or alcohol,” according to the BBC. The government has argued that the… Read more »
Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Mutt Damon: “This is just part of the “Papal Etiquette” including the veil on grown women.”
Oh, I know that. However, it tells a lot about the Catholic Church and its attitude toward the world. I don’t know why they are complaining about Islamic coverings on women.

Gomez
Guest

The Addams Family on a papal visit ….

Odin's Lost Eye
Guest
The future planned for Hungary by the ’Mighty One’ (O.V.) and Fidesz requires absolute co-operation between themselves and the people. This is why the ‘Might One’ made his proclamation on the matter soon after the election. What this means is that everyone must speak with one voice which is the voice of Orban Victor and his little chums. Because of this dissent in any way shape or form cannot be allowed. Most of those that I know read those sort of news papers which feature mainly very poor young ladies as they do not seem to own much by way of clothing. The rest are trying to beg, borrow etc enough money to get themselves a ‘still’ then they can make moonshine palinka. For Parliament to give a non-judicial body the power to summarily impose fines is not only against the European Charter of Human Rights, but also against the very spirit of European Justice. In Europe you cannot be police, prosecutor, judge and jury all rolled into one. But with his new tanks the Mighty one does not care. Hungary is becoming powerful again (His new toys are about as useful as the Turan tanks of WW2 were against… Read more »
Billy
Guest

Off topic:
This foto was made at the Pope residence for the funeral of democracy in Hungary! 🙂
With the Vitez Dolomitbanyai Viktor Orban and his family. 🙂 This is the reason of black clothing. 🙂

Joe Simon
Guest

At least Orbán is doing something positive for Hungarian demography. With five children he is very much the exception, where one and two at most per family is the norm. He demonstrates his belief in the future of the country. People should follow his example. In addition, it is a nice looking family, the First Family, although the expression doesnot exists in Hunhary.

Öcsi
Guest

Hey, Joe Simon, the Hungarian Roma usually have more kids than the non-Roma Hungarian majority. The Roma are doing more for “Hungarian demography” than non-Roma. Let’s celebrate them too, okay?

Thomas
Guest

Joe Simon
Pretty soon the Orbans and his friends will be the only ones who choose to stay in Hungary, so they really need to multiply, becasue many, with sensitivity for democracy will flee.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Öcsi: “Hey, Joe Simon, the Hungarian Roma usually have more kids than the non-Roma Hungarian majority. The Roma are doing more for “Hungarian demography” than non-Roma. Let’s celebrate them too, okay?”
The tax law is written in such a way that families with lower income get absolutely no break. And I’m not talking necessarily about the Roma but anyone who earns less than 600,000/month. These people can’t deduct anything over three children.
On the other hand, Orban who makes officially 2.1 million forints a months will receive half a million more a month as a result of the flat tax and four children.

Matt L
Guest

Ok, so what I don’t get is why OV and Fidesz don’t just privatize the bulk of the State Media assets and then turn the rump into a toothless tiger on the model of NPR and PBS in the United States? Why monkey with repressive media laws when you can manufacture consent? Its cheaper and looks a lot less ham-fisted.

An
Guest

@Matt L: I am sure they will merge the state owned media outlets eventually. But the whole point of the legislation is to control all the media: under the new media law the requirement of “balanced reporting” and other content-related stipulations apply to private media outlets as well (if they don’t comply, the media council can impose fines on them).

Joe Simon
Guest

My Friends, it is Christmas time, so lets put aside your usual venom, invectiveness, cynicism, kishitűség, lack of empathy that so characterize this Blog. It was a papal visit by a Kennedy-like family. And speaking of that illustrious clan, they were just as derided by the Wasps of that time, as prolific Irish men, who are lazy, drink and have large families. We should be proud of that Orbán family, they look intelligent, wholesome and handsome. Learn from the English: they go gaga over their royals. Now that is a puppet-show for you.

GW
Guest

Joe Simon,
it’s telling that you describe the Prime Minister’s family as the “first family”; in international usage, such a title ordinarily would belong to the family of the head of state, in this case the President, not the head of government, the Prime Minister. However, given the new, opaque organization of the cabinet, the maximization of plausible denialability with regard to responsibility for policy or legislation (i.e. through resolutions offered by individual members rather than party fractions), and the obeisance of the current President to the Prime Minister, it’s easy to see how such a confusion would arise!

GW
Guest

Matt L:
The Fidesz government has absolutely no interest in privatising the state media. In order for that to happen, a tender accoridng to European rules would have to be on the open market and the risk of an independent investor entering is too great for Fidesz, as evidenced by their collaboration with MSzP in denying a license extension to Slager Radio, which was both the most popular station in the country and completely neutral in their news coverage. No, what Fidesz would like is to have perpetual control over the state media, and that’s essentially what they’re going to have, with their appointees in place for more than two elections in the future.

Matt L
Guest

Ah, thanks for the clarification GW. The open tender would make things more complicated. but still… it seems to me that OV & Fidesz are sacrificing long term interest, a tame media environment, in favor of getting everything they can right now.
After all, someday the socialists might win, and no doubt they would turn the tables on the Fidesz media. Plus, a heavy handed approach to regulating opposition media could generate both push back and lead to an unregulated pirate media.

Jo Peattie
Guest

I am horrified by the new media laws about to come in force. It just seems wrong. On a flippant note what will my kids do without Cartoon Network? I fear that many tv stations will just shut up shop. The likes of AXN, Universal, HBO, Disney and oh so many more have so much American programming that achieving 50% European content will be impossible.

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