The Hungarian government received criticism not only from the U.S. State Department last week. At almost the same time other American organizations decided that the Hungarian situation was ripe for criticism. At the end of November Paula Schriefer, vice president for global programs of Freedom House, paid a visit to Hungary. Her experiences there prompted her to write an article entitled “Press Freedom a Loser in Viktor Orbán’s Winner-Take-All Hungary.”
Schriefer, after discussions with dozens of journalists, media officials, regulatory authorities, and government representatives, “validated the serious concerns expressed by international press freedom experts” since the media law was passed last December. She didn’t like “the government’s arrogance in responding to widespread international criticism.” Rather than engaging in honest discussion of the issues, “the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has spent countless hours and reams of paper justifying every questionable aspect of the law by searching out and documenting similar examples in other European countries.” Journalists she talked to claim that they are already engaging in self-censorship to avoid legal penalties or punitive actions. Schriefer also extended her criticism to the new constitution and the laws that limit the authority of the constitutional court.
Two days later MTI fairly accurately summarized the content of Paula Schriefer’s article. It took Gábor Borókai, editor-in-chief of Heti Válasz, five solid days before he noticed the critical article coming from Freedom House in Washington. It is unlikely that Borókai actually read the original article or, if he did, he has scant regard for truthfulness and accuracy. Even his choice of words is telling. When he calls Paula Schriefer “aligazgató” he is using a word almost never heard in Hungarian. Schriefer’s proper title is “alelnök.”
Although Schriefer tells us that she spoke to different groups of people, including government officials, Borókai claims that “Paula Schriefer published information she received from journalists not in favor of this government and these people without exception told her that they are suffering under the constraints of self-censorship.”
By the second paragraph Paula Schriefer becomes an “official blogger of Freedom House” who simply doesn’t tell the truth. By the fourth paragraph she is an “official interrogator [kérdezőbiztos] from abroad” who is being misled by Hungarian journalists who speak English and who furtively managed to get acquainted with her. In any case, how does she dare pass judgment on the state of the Hungarian media when she doesn’t speak Hungarian? “She should be more careful picking her sources. She would sleep better back in the United States.” And then members of the Hungarian government, Fidesz politicians, and pro-government journalists are surprised that foreign observers have such a low opinion of the Orbán government and its official supporters.
Just as Borókai was telling Paula Schriefer off and practically calling her a liar, a few things happened in the Hungarian media that prove that Schriefer’s informers were not terribly far off the mark. A few journalists who in the last year worked for the official news agency but were recently fired decided to speak out. Now they can talk openly about the government-controlled media authority that is responsible for supplying news to the public media. Here is a short video in which the journalists tell about their own experiences of interference from above. Even a journalist who was reporting mainly on foreign affairs and therefore felt that he was pretty safe found that his editors demanded the inclusion of critical remarks about foreign politicians who said something less than complimentary about Viktor Orbán.
In addition, it came to light that there are some people who are barred from public view. The case of Zoltán Lomnici, former chief Justice of the Supreme Court, received wide attention when Index discovered that his face was covered up as he was standing talking to somebody during an interview with László Tőkés, one of the deputy speakers of the European Parliament from Romania.
And the doctored up one that was aired both on MTV and on DunaTV
A pretty bad job, I must say. But this is not the first time that falsified material reaches the viewers of MTV. In April 2011 a young reporter, Dániel Papp, falsified a story on Daniel Cohn-Bendit’s Budapest visit to attend a conference organized by the European Green Party. It was a huge scandal but nothing happened to Papp. Or rather it did: he was promoted to be responsible for all the news provided by the new media authority. As it turned out, Papp was involved earlier with Jobbik and the party’s chief-of-staff. Such a past seems to be a plus for Fidesz media leaders.
And finally here is Balázs Nagy Navarro’s English-language explanation of why he is going on a hunger strike. Nagy Navarro is one of the trade union leaders representing journalists and all other technical staff providing television news:
On December 2, the same day Paula Schriefer’s article appeared on the website of Freedom House, there was a Hearing on Combating Anti-Semitism in the OSCE Region (Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe). Senator Benjamin L. Cardin, co-chairman of the Helsinki Commission, was not present but he sent his speech for the occasion. In it he quoted Péter Feldmájer, president of the Hungarian Jewish community, who warned that “Today is a very dark time for modern Hungary… It is a very dangerous direction not just for Hungarian Jews, but for Hungarian democracy.”
Senator Cardin mentioned a few items he found worrisome. (1) President Pál Schmitt quoted from convicted war criminal Albert Wass in his August 2010 inaugural address. (2) The Budapest City Council cut by one third the funds it provided for the annual Holocaust memorial event “March for Life” after Jobbik objected to the event. (3) The new constitution adopted in April disavows Hungarian responsibility for war-time atrocities committed after March 19, 1944 (the date of the German occupation) without regard for Hungarian complicity in the deportation of half a million Hungarian Jews. (4) Some Hungarian officials have asserted that the 1920 Treaty of Trianon was worse than the Holocaust, thereby trivializing the genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity of World War II.
MTI reported on this hearing’s Hungarian aspects on December 8 and a number of mostly liberal publications picked up the news. Neither the pro-government press and electronic media nor any government official commented on Cardin’s latest criticism of the Hungarian government.
So, life is tough for Viktor Orbán nowadays. In spite of protestations to the contrary it seeems that the cat is out of the bag: the Hungarian media under government control is being manipulated. There is proof by now. Not just some English-speaking unpatriotic journalists who tell all sorts of lies to foreign “official interrogators.” As for Senator Cardin’s criticism about Jobbik’s influence I will spend another day detailing how Fidesz is fulfilling all the demands Jobbik put forth in its election campaign in early 2010. If I were Gábor Vona I wouldn’t complain.