D-Day for the Hungarian media

Yes, it is July 1 and in case anyone forgot, today is the day that the media law's regulations governing the written media, including the Internet newspapers, came into force. Everybody suspected that the government decided to postpone the date by six months because it didn't want to become the subject of countless articles in the foreign press about the draconian laws affecting the Hungarian press while Hungary was holding the presidency of the European Union.

It seems, though, that Annamária Szalai and her crew in the Media Council were busy getting ready for the day because this morning we heard that Népszava, a left-liberal organ, received a stern letter from Jenő Bodonovich, who seems to be the commissioner in charge of media and telecommunication. From the letter, which is available online, one learns that an unnamed person denounced Népszava because of a comment that appeared in the Internet edition of the paper. The article that inspired the comments was "Pál Schmitt: Ferenc Mádl was a man of firm convictions." It appeared on June 8 on the occasion of the former president's sudden death.

The man who wasn't brave enough to reveal his name wrote straight to Zoltán Kovács, undersecretary in charge of communications in the Ministry of Administration and Justice, on June 13. He was offended by one of the comments written in connection with the article. He neglected to be specific. Because there were about twenty comments that accompanied the Internet edition of the article we can only guess which one offended our brave man.

Why he didn't write to the Media Council? Most likely because he was familiar with the name of the fiery undersecretary who defended the media law with such gusto at every international forum ever since January when the international outcry began. Zoltán Kovács found this denunciation of Népszava so terribly important and urgent that he immediately sent the letter over to the "proper authority"–that is, the Media Council. One wishes that government officials were always so prompt in answering letters and acting upon them.

The indignant citizen found "the comments to be profane [kegyeletsértők]." He claimed that he wrote a letter to Népszava complaining but received no answer. (Népszava claims that they know nothing about any such letter.)

It took the Office of the Commissioner of the Media and Telecommunications a little longer to write a letter to Péter Németh, editor-in-chief, but it arrived in time to make a big splash on July 1, the D-Day of the Hungarian Media Law. In the letter Németh was informed that the commissioner is beginning an investigation because the comments to the article "are insulting concerning the persons of Ferenc Mádl and President Pál Schmitt." So, the charge is no longer profanity but simply insulting language.

So, let's see what might have offended our man who complained to Zoltán Kovács. Well, someone called Schmitt a clown; someone else thought that Mádl was a man of conviction as opposed to Schmitt. Someone actually took pity on Schmitt and thought that to use the occasion of Mádl's death to badmouth Schmitt is not fair. Someone remarked that to be a man of conviction in comparison to Schmitt is not much to say. Interestingly enough, the only tasteless remark among the twenty or so comments was one about Viktor Orbán. Someone said that he will rejoice when "the fellow from Alcsút will join him [Mádl, I presume] in the other world."

All these comments are simply opinions. Someone might think that Schmitt is a clown or not a man of conviction, but surely even the Hungarian media law couldn't find this opinion punishable. As for "the fellow from Alcsút," it is a tasteless reference. But, interestingly, the letter makes no mention of that particular comment. In fact, I found these comments quite mild in comparison to the usual fare on the Internet.

The reaction to this letter to Népszava was total panic in the media community. The first was Index, the popular Internet site, which announced that there will be no more opportunity from here on to write comments. The editors admitted that this move is not a very nice or brave act but "because of the changed legal environment" they cannot do anything else. They cannot hire three people to monitor the comments 24/7; instead, "we have to play safe."

The last time I looked, one can no longer comment on hvg.hu, hirszerzo.hu, and hetivalasz.hu. Mandiner.hu, a site run by young conservatives, took the whole thing in stride and made fun of it. The article that appeared on the topic was entitled "Down with comment crime!" The author expressed his astonishment that Zoltán Kovács gets involved in such a petty affair and that the Media Council actually takes this whole thing seriously. He ended the article on a sarcastic note: "Long live our beloved leader, Viktor Orbán, who shows us the way in the war against the wicked imperialists, multinationals, sovereign debt, and the IMF in which our Chinese brothers are helping us! Will I get into trouble over this? I hope not."

The fact is that there is huge confusion in the minds of the authorities themselves over what the Media Law covers and what it doesn't. Just today the spokeswoman of the Media Council, Karola Kiricsi, specifically mentioned that the Media Council has no jurisdiction over blogs, Internet forums, and comments. She blamed the media itself for spreading false information which she has been trying to dispel.

However, the panic that set in shows that Kiricis wasn't successful at calming the fear that is spreading in the media community. Moreover, the confusion exists not only in journalistic circles but also within the Media Council itself. After all, the Office of the Commissioner for the Media and Telecommunication is under the jurisdiction of the Media Council.

I'm happy to say that one still can comment on Népszava. 

 

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Member

Yesss!!! It’s out! I kept hitting the refresh button to see this! 🙂 Let’s read it …

Member

I think we should call this C-Day. Censorship day. Either way this is very sad day in the country’s history.
The Bodonovich letter to the editor of the Nepszava is really chilling. It sounds like a citation to DUI hearing. The “best” part is that it blatantly asks the editor about his “opinion” about the alleged offensive comments along with the their policies to moderate the comments. It sounds like somebody is reprehending a subordinate. Such a moron! Ooops, can I say that?
Apropos, the bright side. The great Hungarian survival instinct is kicking in: humor. It’s hilarious to read the sarcastic reactions, how the art of reading/writing between the lines is warming up. Here is an example for the Hungarian readers: http://w.blog.hu/2011/01/03/elnoki_porno It’s about a terrible president … who at the end turns out s the Slovak president. Aha.
Aight, Johnny! Put a new battery into you pacemaker, strap-up, I mean strap yourself in, and start pedaling the you-know-what (BUNK-OM-MATIC (c) by Me 2011).

Member

Hi Eva, I was hoping that this will be the subject. THey have no idea what a heck they are doing. The intelligent readers on this board are not surprised by this. I wonder what happened to the complaints to the Media Authority about Magyar Nemzet and Magyar Hirlap?
Of course Orban cannot be offended by anyone naming Pal Schmitt a clown, as he publicly said he has his own undersecretary for clown affairs.

Paul
Guest

The web sites running scared is even more depressing than the law itself.
Pathetic.

Member

No, It’s actually a good move. It emphasizes that the people who lose with this is not the bloggers but the folks who read them. As lazy and apathetic we Hungarians are we still like to vent once in a while. Now we can’t. The pressure will mount. Here goes another 100k FIDESZ votes.
What’s pathetic is how primitive and obvious the attack is. They didn’t have the patience to wait for something that at least makes sense. An article with some pile of steaming controversy. Bodonovich like a starving kitchen fly flew right on the first dry piece of turd he could find in the moment the window was open.
If it really gets bad the Hungarian internet media should go into exile. Onto servers abroad with foreigners as editors. Then the writers would contribute to the same sites but there would be no registration.

Member

The whole thing reminds me of the Chinese Internet control. It ws pathetic especially when they held the Olympics. I had two friends (One from Hungary, one from Canada) who were reporting from China at the time. Let me say, Orban learns from the best. He is learning how to control the press and information, he is working on the cheap labour, he certainly used extras to clap on celebrations (March 15), let see what else we can learn from China that made them such a success story for Orban.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Mutt: “No, It’s actually a good move… As lazy and apathetic we Hungarians are we still like to vent once in a while. Now we can’t. The pressure will mount.”
I tend to agree with Mutt. It will especially turn the younger generation away from Fidesz. I think that it was a very stupid move on their part. As for the primitiveness–I can’t even find words. People spending their time writing official letters about such petty nonsense. What a life it must be for Bodonovich and his like at the Media Authority.

Kirsten
Guest
Are this the “Hungarian democratic traditions” with respect to the free press? I am not going to repeat my comments from last week but I would very much suggest not to change the current practice at Nepszava and let the Media Council show how exactly they interpret their task. I see that the “public” already “understood”, which is why people retreat. I am not too familiar with the informal channels of influencing in Hungary but for me so far there was a letter sent to Nepszava not a group of people from AVH. Passive resistence is a kind of opposition but there are still other avenues open – unless Hungarians so much detest “intervention” from a supranational organisation (certainly idegenszivü) that instead any domestically bred calamity is more welcome. (And before it is repeated that the “EU will not do anything”, I will repeat that it is the task of the persons concerned to assert their claims.) Passive resistence fully disregards that in a regime based on law, accountability and defined procedures, which both Hungary and the EU are to a substantial extent, these avenues have to be made prominent use of and not ad hoc protest (above all: passive)… Read more »
Member

Eva: “People spending their time writing official letters about such petty nonsense. ” Someone maybe or maybe not wrote a letter. Maybe a civilian maybe not. According to Nepszava, no such letter was received.
Kirsten: “I would very much suggest not to change the current practice at Nepszava and let the Media Council show how exactly they interpret their task.” I would vert much agree with you under normal circumstances, but the Media Authority is a not a normal organization, and the fines the media outlets may have to pay would put them out of business. The current Hungarian regime is not to smart in many ways but certainly covered their behind for every possibility in order to silence anyone with opposing opinion.

Kirsten
Guest

Some1, I was thinking what could be put to a trial (I am a bit obsessed with this idea I know…) and I think a heavy fine for publishing the opinion of a reader who wishes OV away would be some “hard data”. If these fora are closed “in advance”, you cannot say that OV would have impeded a free press. He apparently does not need to do very much. That is what I consider to be a problem, it is not that I would doubt that it is becoming very nasty currently.

Member

Kirsten, let’s not jump the gun. In this case there is no case. It haven’t even reached our Porn Queen yet (Annamaria Szalai, the Media Council’s chair, who used to be an editor of a porn magazine). It’s just a jumpy Orbanista who sent a warning to the editor of an opposition internet “paper”, basically saying “We’re coming for ya, sob”. This is Planet Hungary so try to put your logic-filter goggles on. “Fortélyos félelem igazgat” (*) as Attila József said about the inter-war period. There is logic sometimes behind the stupidest things. In short maybe the only purpose of this is to send the anti-government media in the corner with their tails tucked in. It seems to be working so far …
(*) Folks, who unlike me, actually speak English can help me out, but it means something like “the cunning fear is governing”.

jellem-senkinek-nem-inge
Guest
jellem-senkinek-nem-inge

D-Day, July 1st, was a day, freeedom was lost again.
The art of losing freedom must be a prequalification to apply for a civil servant job in Hungary.
The Horthy, Rakosi and Kadar systems were text book cases of grinding up freedom, and arranging killing fields in every corner of Hungary, inside and outside its borders.
The pathetic citizens of Christian and Communist backgrounds are repeating the old mistakes imported from Greek dramas…..

Paul
Guest

History tells us again and again that the ‘catious’ approach to a government determined to impose dictatorial control doesn’t work. You play by the rules, they don’t.
By the time it’s obvious that a more confrontational approach is (was) called for, it’s too late.
Hungarians need to stand up now, when there’s still a chance opposition might achieve something.
Let’s show the rest of the world what OV has in mind, before he’s too powerful to stop us or not care if we do.

peter litvanyi
Guest

“History tells us again and again that the ‘catious’ approach to a government determined to impose dictatorial control doesn’t work. You play by the rules, they don’t.”
Dear Paul,
and perhaps we shouldn’t play by the rules either. Never too late: the alternative /non action/ is simply not there. Yes, Dear Hungarians: it is time. TO THE STREETS!
“Off topic”: A BIG HAPPY “FORTH” to all of you here including the English /Paul, Odin,s etc./.
Peter Litvanyi

Ivan
Guest

Well, I don’t feel able to post critically here or anywhere else – it’s just too scary. Draconian new laws and bar codes and paramilitaries and talk of military action. No thanks. But I’ll only feel able to speak candidly if I ever manage to leave. This is a threatening place for some to live and to bring up a family.
Apathy is tempting and has its rewards … which is also the point of many of these laws.
It has become such a ‘patriotic duty’ to vote for a particular party over the last couple of years, that verbal discourse in the street or in cafes on politics has also all but stopped. Fora were a release, therefore. But it’s over now, for now, by law. I will continue to read with interest. You’re doing a vital, intelligent, balanced and moral job. Bye for now. Sorry for the drama – but please do not underestimate these laws or what this country feels like for some now.

Odin's lost eye
Guest
Kirsten you write ** “EU will not do anything”. In the matter of the Media Laws the EU has made some ‘primary adjustments’ but these have not yet been made public in Hungarian. To the Hungarians they still think the Media Law remains in its original state. The matter of the Media Law was left on the table until the Venice Commission reported on the matter of the constitution. Despite what our tame troll says the report of the Venice Commission is written in positively vitriolic language for a diplomatic document. When the Council of Europe has reviewed the report, it will then decide what action to take. This will be to bring cases in the European Court of Human Rights. Then the fur will start to fly! What ‘The Mighty One’ (OV) and his little chums have not realised is that Europe does not indulge in megaphone diplomacy. The fact that no one is jumping up and down and shouting in Brussels, does not mean that nothing is being done. Peter Litvani Thanks for your wishes A BIG HAPPY “FORTH” – cheeky rebellious colonials (Loud chuckle from Odin,s etc.). Ivan you are doing exactly what ‘His Mightiness’ wants, but… Read more »
Member

Ivan, I will miss your intelligent and critical comments. I do understand why would you not comment any further. I’ve been involved in “critical activities” under Kadar, and it was scary in many ways, but i had no family on my own at the time. Still my mom lost her job. It is sad to think that after a quarter Century Hungary is back to Square One.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Ivan: “I will continue to read with interest. You’re doing a vital, intelligent, balanced and moral job. Bye for now.”
This is very sad. I really don’t know what to say.

John T
Guest

And to think this is going on in 2011!

Paul
Guest

Ivan – my understanding is that it is the publication/web site that is fined, nothing happens to the comment poster.
In Éva’s case, there’s no way OV’s lot will be able to do anything to her or Typepad. It’s only web sites and publications that fall under Hungarian juristiction that they can fine.
And anyway, the only way they can find out who you are is to get a court order against Typepad to reveal your email address. And that is just never going to happen!
Carry on posting – just don’t give away any personal details that will enable the Fidesz goons to track you down.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Paul: “In Éva’s case, there’s no way OV’s lot will be able to do anything to her or Typepad. It’s only web sites and publications that fall under Hungarian juristiction that they can fine. And anyway, the only way they can find out who you are is to get a court order against Typepad to reveal your email address.”
Paul is right. Moreover, András Koltay, member of the Media Council, emphatically announced this morning that blogs and comments are not effected by the new media law. So, the right hand didn’t know what the left hand was doing. Meanwhile I managed to find some information on this Bodonovich.
Actually as it turned out there were articles about him and even an interview with him but who on earth would have thought that this bureaucrat one day will matter one way or the other.

Member

Eva: “who on earth would have thought that this bureaucrat one day will matter one way or the other.” Who on earh would of thought that Annamaria Szalai, porn publisher queen will matter either? Live it to Orban to pull out these kind of people from the hat. Great government!

peter litvanyi
Guest

Dear Ivan,
re:”Bye for now. Sorry for the drama – but please do not underestimate these laws or what this country feels like for some now.”
I will personally miss your comments a lot. No one underestimates anything here. You have two choices. A: you and the honest /I still believe/ “silent majority” of Hungary sends these …..these people currently in power PACKING. No one here can do that for you; right? B: you leave the country and that’s OK too.
Do you think it is easy for me? What if I ever have to visit my ailing old mother or my only brother? Most likely I would be arrested on the airport on some idiotic excuse. Think about this.
Now I need to go. It’s the fourth of July and I have a family as well. “Four Days without War” by Konstantin Simonov.
I hope we shall hear from you again and soon, Ivan.
Peter Litvanyi

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