Those observers who claimed that the average Hungarian cares only about his pocketbook are wrong again. According to the latest opinion poll by Medián, only a minority of Hungarians support the media law in its present form.
Although most Hungarians by now are so sick and tired of politics that they barely follow the news, if at all, 88% of people asked had heard about the law and the controversy surrounding it. First and foremost, the pollsters wanted to know what the subjects knew about the specifics of the law without any probing on their part. The spontaneous answers clustered around the defense of the morality of youngsters; the increase of Hungarian content in programming; new appointees at the public media outlets; decrease in reporting of criminal cases in the news; the appointment of the head of Media Authority for nine years; the very high fines the Media Council can impose; the Media Council's supervision not only of all the domestic media but also of the Internet; the members of the Council being all government appointees; and the centralization of all news available on public television stations and radios. The spread in the descriptions was considerable. The restriction of crime reporting was most frequently mentioned, followed by the heavy fines that can be imposed on media outlets. Fewer people mentioned the centralization of the news or the duration of the tenure of Annamária Szalai for nine years.
The people who took part in the survey were asked to put down their preferences on a sliding scale from 0 to 100. It seems that the increase of Hungarian content (50) and the defense of youngsters' morality (53) were quite popular. All other questions received grades under 50. The lowest approval rating was for the centralized news service at public radios and television (34). The average enthusiasm for the law's provisions was 45.
After finding out how much and what the subjects knew about the law, the pollsters were interested in what the population, according to party preferences, think of the extremely wide powers of the Media Authority. There were three possible answers: (1) such wide powers are warranted in order to supervise the media properly; (2) it is worrisome when a body which is not independent from the government has such wide authority; and (3) the person doesn't know. Not surprisingly 54% of Fidesz voters thought that such wide powers are necessary, but 33% thought that it was worrisome while 13% had no opinion. MSZP voters overwhelmingly rejected the the current shape and form of the Media Authority (86%) while only 9% approved. 58% of Jobbik voters disapproved but 34% thought that it was fine and dandy. In the case of LMP only 6% approved, 82% disapproved, and a surprisingly high number (12%) had no opinion. Among those who claimed that they had no party preference only 22% approved and 18% didn't know what to think. There were some who voted for other parties (I assume SZDSZ, MDF) and these people also had a low opinion of the media law (18%). In total, 35% of the sample approved, while 51% found it unacceptable and 14% had no opinion. So it seems that not only the media workers and the foreign governments are less than enthusiastic; only a third of the Hungarian population supports the wide authority of the Media Council wholeheartedly.
When Medián asked about the way the bill was presented and passed by parliament, only 25% of those asked thought that speedy passage without any consultation was appropriate. At the same time in every group, including the Fidesz voters, the majority considered it important that such a significant piece of legislation go through careful planning and consultation with different interest groups. Sixty percent of those asked thought that the time for preparation was too short and thus the law suffered.
Medián also wanted to know what Hungarians think of the possible effect of foreign criticism. There were three possible answers: (1) it can adversely affect Hungary's position in the world; (2) it makes no difference; and (3) the current increased attention will help Hungary's international standing. Only 31% of Fidesz voters think that the increased attention will damage Hungary's standing while 42% are convinced that all this criticism will not make any difference one way or the other. However, those who think that this international upheaval will enhance Hungary's standing is only 16%. In the case of MSZP voters the situation is naturally radically different. Among them only 3% think that all this criticism is good for Hungary while 77% think that it is injurious to the country's reputation. But even 65% of Jobbik voters seem to have enough sense to think that the international reaction to the media law is not good for the country. Interestingly enough, the ratio of LMP voters is very similar to that of Jobbik. Among all voters 46% of the people think that the foreign reception of the law is bad for Hungary, 30% think that it makes no difference, and only 10% feel that it is actually good for the country's reputation.
On the basis of this poll I think it would be a good idea for Fidesz to rethink their attempt to muzzle the media. It is attacked abroad and not supported at home. And I think that in a month or two, as a result of the introduction of what looks like a very severe austerity program, the support for the government might drop considerably and with it society's tolerance for strong-man tactics that are so obvious in this bill.