Kriszta D. Tóth’s encounter with Hungarian state television under Fidesz rule

Today I will report on a interview with Kriszta D. Tóth, a journalist who was “the face” of the news at MTV, the Hungarian public television station, for four years. In March 2011 she tendered her resignation. From the interview we gain a glimpse into the inner workings of the so-called independent Hungarian public media under Viktor Orbán’s premiership.

Kriszta D. Tóth’s husband is an Englishman who, according to her, had difficulties grasping the depth of the problems she had to face day in and day out. He couldn’t fully comprehend the extent of government interference in news reporting. Nor can most people, either inside or outside of Hungary. Tóth’s story provides some anecdotal evidence.

D. Toth KrisztaKriszta D. Tóth is an impressive woman. She has an M.A. in English language and literature and, right after she finished her studies at ELTE, became a journalist at The Budapest Sun, a publication still in existence. During the spring and summer of 1996 she was a journalist trainee with the Instant News Service in Washington, from where she went to The Budapest Business Journal. It was in 1997 that she moved over to television, working for commercial stations in Budapest. In 2002 she was hired by MTV and for a while (2004-2007) served as bureau chief in Brussels, after which she returned to Budapest as MTV’s evening news anchor.

It couldn’t have been easy for her to submit her resignation after spending almost nine years with the MTV news staff. What’s worse, Kriszta D. Tóth felt compelled to resign twice. MTV coaxed her back after her first resignation by agreeing to move her from news to entertainment. But after a year and a half she realized that even the “lighter side” of MTV didn’t offer a refuge for someone like herself. In January 2013 she resigned for the second and most likely final time.

What caused this woman, after a lot of soul searching, to quit? As she says at the beginning of the interview, political interference in the programs of public television and radio has always existed; it was only the self-restraint of the politicians and the professionalism and human decency of the news staff that moderated it. All this changed after 2010. The new regime has no self-restraint, and those members of the staff who upheld the professionalism of the news programs were fired.

Interference with the news was not subtle. Tóth, as anchor, always wrote her own leads, but she often found minutes before the live program that they had been rewritten and that this rewritten appeared on her teleprompter. Initially she tried to recreate her original story, but eventually she just gave in. For example, the word “opposition” was always crossed out from her stories.

There were daily fights with the “news director” over the content of the program. Eventually the situation deteriorated to the point that “political messages” were sent from above and the staff was ordered to write the news accordingly. “The question wasn’t what the news of the day was but what the politicians wanted to hear that day.”

Her life started to be sheer hell because her professional standards were being violated daily. Eventually she and her husband came to the conclusion that this couldn’t go on. The next day she submitted her resignation. But then came that infamous evening news broadcast that she anchored for the last time. It covered the European Parliament’s condemnation of Hungary’s media law. To refresh your memory, this was the time when Vikt0r Orbán traveled to Strasbourg to defend his government’s position but failed and the vote went against Hungary. Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a member of the Greens/European Free Alliance (Greens/EFA), delivered a fiery condemnation, which Orbán had to endure. I wrote about the scene on January 19, 2011. It was this event that had to be “explained” somehow to the Hungarian public. Apparently the fight over the content went on for hours and, according to Tóth, although the final product was terribly unprofessional it was still “a hundred times better than it would have been if the original instructions had been followed.” While the camera was focusing on Cohn-Bendit’s role in the 1968 student riots in Paris and his alleged pedophile activities, Tóth was just sitting there with her head down, totally exhausted and most likely disgusted. The camera caught her in that pose. Many of her audience thought that it was an intentional signal to them about the state of affairs at MTV.

Tóth was urged to stay on. She agreed to the request on the condition that she could have a show that has nothing to do with politics. So, after half a year of recuperation, she returned and started an entertainment show entitled, after her initials, the DTK Show. The program had a bumpy start because of her inexperience in the genre, but eventually it attracted a sizable audience, surpassing MTV’s other entertainment program called the Fábry Show. Nonetheless, the management kept firing the people involved with the show, and eventually she was even told whom she could and could not invite as guests. By January 2013 Kriszta D. Tóth had had enough and resigned anew.

She has just published her first adult novel. (Earlier she wrote children’s books.) It is entitled Jöttem, hogy lássalak ( I came to see you again). She thinks that one day she may return to television, but I guess it will not be at MTV while Viktor Orbán is in power.

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Guest
Gyor Calling! Toth’s resignation shows how difficult it is to hold principles – and to hold onto your job. In addition it is confirmation of the bleed in’ obvious: self censorship. The press may have too much freedom in England, some think (but not me I think they need more honesty and integrity, some hope!). But it is preferable in adducing the probable truth of a report, rather than propaganda press of Hungary. I think this is the reason Orban can dominate the schedules during the flood disasters – all the embarrassing bits can never get through the controllers – or MTI. Mind you the many many ‘cuts’ in Orban’s videos show what a tough time the producers have to ‘improve’ their ‘star’. How anyone inside and outside Hungary can see this as objective reporting beats me – it is as hollow and unconvincing, and laughable, as a the tearful North Korean presenters were at the death of their great leader. And the boots are a hoot too – always green and always clean! So a big sacrifice for principle, well done Kriszta – I am sure you will be very welcome, and valued in the English media. We desperately… Read more »
Guest

Gyor Calling!

Eva, I only mention this to stop the moron Kovach trying to be clever.

The ‘listeners’ couldn’t ‘see’ Toth’s head in her hands. They had to be viewers.

There, troll triumphalism denied.

A sad state of affairs this though, really sad that yet more clever people may leave Hungary.

Regards

Charlie

Ivan
Guest

Even the Guardian has recently been guilty of publishing a hugely misleading lengthy CiF piece by Orban’s old chum Tibor Fischer … though they also published a customarily elegant riposte by the great George Szirtes (in my opinion, along with Eva, the most important writer on the state of modern Hungary). The point is that the outside world is so ignorant of Hungary – both past and present – that it is proving immensely receptive to misinformation. Rui Tavares will therefore be an important figure as these matters go forward. Hopefully Kriszta Toth will be, too.

Ivan
Guest

To clarify, I find Eva and Mr Szirtes the most reliable and erudite of English language commenters on Hungary at present. Do check out his blog – though he has been rather more preoccupied with Manchester United recently. There is much wisdom and sadness on the state of Hungarian affairs to be found there.

Guest

Gyor again!

Yes Ivan the Guardian didn’t cover itself in glory, to my great shame. They are renown for allowing contrarians (in my view, as Paul can tetchily testify!). But the Fischer piece was pure Fidesz propaganda and must have been cut out and in a Klic frame on display in Fidesznik headquarters.

Thanks for the Szirtees info – I missed it so will track it down. A little balance then to a dreadful slip-up by the Guardian.

Regards

Charlie

Member

Let’s just wait for our in house Fidesz crowd as they explain that Hungary still has freedon of the press.

Member

“freedom” I meant

tappanch
Guest

If you think Fidesz has suspended the work of its Law Factory due to the flooding, think again:

http://www.parlament.hu/ulesterv/ulesterv.htm

Is it 30 new laws for the next two days? I cannot count them.
[This shows how stupid Mesterhazy was to suspend politicking during the flood.]

Fidesz will take away Margit island from the opposition-led district 13.

According to the current law, any territorial change of a local government should be preceded by a local referendum. So Fidesz will ban the referendum too.

tappanch
Guest

Harsh opinion about the weak opposition leaders, who would be ready to compromise with the tyrant:

http://nepszava.com/2013/06/velemeny/bartus-laszlo-hajlik-a-gerinc-2.html

Member

tappanch :
Harsh opinion about the weak opposition leaders, who would be ready to compromise with the tyrant:
http://nepszava.com/2013/06/velemeny/bartus-laszlo-hajlik-a-gerinc-2.html

This is sad …

Bartus says we should not make compromises – we should instead stick it to Orban. Right. 200,000 people constantly demonstrating every week would definitely do it. This pocket dictator would s*t his pants.

But this has nothing to do with reality. We have the apathetic, I’d say lazy, selfish, uneducated Hungarian people. The best you can do is to charm out enough votes to take over in the parliament.

This is not about making compromises with the Fidesz. This is to win votes. Bartus better shut up.

Dan
Guest

I don’t know why mentioning allegations about Cohen Bendit’s alledged pedophilia should be seen as poor taste. I think he has a case to answer, especially as the German Green Party is investigating its own support for pedophile groups in the 1980s. Cohen Bendit wrote the following in a book about his experiences running a kindergarden:

“My constant flirtations with the children took on erotic characteristics. It happened to me several times that a few children undid my flies and started to stroke me.”

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/may/14/green-party-germany-paedophiles-80s

Dan
Guest

tappanch :
Harsh opinion about the weak opposition leaders, who would be ready to compromise with the tyrant:
http://nepszava.com/2013/06/velemeny/bartus-laszlo-hajlik-a-gerinc-2.html

tappanch :
Harsh opinion about the weak opposition leaders, who would be ready to compromise with the tyrant:</p
http://nepszava.com/2013/06/velemeny/bartus-laszlo-hajlik-a-gerinc-2.html

God, what a horrible peice of writing. What is it, two minutes of hate against the Hungarian opposition?

Curly
Guest

Dan :
I don’t know why mentioning allegations about Cohen Bendit’s alledged pedophilia should be seen as poor taste.

How about “totally irrelevant” to the case at hand then? What does that have to do with the specific complaints about the media law? Are only paragons of virtue allowed to criticize? It was clearly an attempt to discredit someone who dared point out that the emperor was wearing no clothes.

Ron
Guest

OT Seeing the previous posts. One of the commentators is Odin’s Lost Eye. I have not seen his reaction/comments lately. Is he out there and okay?

spectator
Guest

tappanch :
Harsh opinion about the weak opposition leaders, who would be ready to compromise with the tyrant:
http://nepszava.com/2013/06/velemeny/bartus-laszlo-hajlik-a-gerinc-2.html

Thanks for the link tappanch!
While I disagree with many of Mr.Bartus’s assessment regarding individuals, in my opinion he is completely right, there is no way to compromise with Orbán.

As I mentioned a few days back: you just don’t negotiate with the plague, do you?

csoda.peter
Guest

“political interference in the programs of public television and radio has always existed; it was only the self-restraint of the politicians and the professionalism and human decency of the news staff that moderated it.”

This cannot be overemphasised. This lady is not the first to resign for this reason. We have a friend whose fate mirrored this lady’s just a few years before her. But it was because the long-entrenched cadre of MSZP-influenced TV professionals desplayed similar lack of restraint.

What is a shame is that clearing out one set of managers has not reduced the problem but increased it. Another piece of incompetence, I guess, again probably willful .

Guest

OT: Impressions from a recent (antediluvian) visit to Budapest:

Street life as lively as ever but awfully many closed shops. Only CBA seems to proliferate. As many homeless men sleeping in streets and parks as usual.

The parliament building proudly flying the Székely and Hungarian flags, side by side and same size, while the surroundings are all dug up in preparation for fortification or something.

Significant increase in people who understand and speak English. Nobody responds in Latin.

Everybody says Moszkva tér.

The marvellous CET building, completed several years ago, is still not open and earning money. Gossip will know that on 20 March a court in Pecs ruled that Budapest municipality must pay MKB bank that has financed the project 20 million Euro. Trifling matter not mentioned in the press. Appellate hearing in September.

Member
Member

Dan, even though maybe Cohn-Bendit is guilty with something, he has not been charged. His “account” of the events could be simple fiction. He also stated “his writing was not based on true events, rather from what he today calls “obnoxious provocation” that “shouldn’t have been written that way.” http://www.dw.de/pedophilia-accusations-haunt-green-politician/a-16791213 Until Cohn-Bendit will be proven guilty he is innocent, even in Hungary. (Side note, actually maybe not in Hungary as the last two year’s arrests and mock trials of oppositions proves.) Cohn-Bendit being a pedophile or not has nothing to do with the unlawful and/or undemocratic actions Fidesz is taking. THe only reason Cohn-Bandit’s other issues got publicized so much is to take away attention of real issues, mainly his critique of Fidesz. The Schmitt case did not receive half of the publicity from the Fidesz media, and he was found guilty.

petofi
Guest

Stevan Harnad :
Kim Lane Scheppele’s latest critique
http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/06/09/beware-of-hungarians-bearing-gifts/

Stevan,
thanks for this.

How lucky we are that a person of Schepele’s sterling analytical qualities is concerned with the multitudinous idiocies and illegalities of Orban and Fidesz; and takes the trouble to highlight them for the general public.

Guest

Some1 is absolutely correct!

The tactics used against Cohn Bendit (they start with writing his name as Bandit …) are typical for the Hungarian right wing – it’s proliferating on politics.hu wher you also find gems like ” Barroso was a Maoist”, Schmitz was an alcoholic” Westerwelle is gay” and so on – point which are either not true or not relevant …

Character assassination is the name of the game – like in the USA: Obama is a Muslim/Socialist/???

PS:

I used to answer them: And Orbán was a liberal once, how shocking!

Or at least he pretended to be a liberal …

silence2013
Guest

orban and his partners in crime are textbook cases.
representing poor character, and lots of greed.
their faith is in violence.
it is funny, these people never consider their assured near term fall.

Eme história történt Pest-Budában,
Az magyarok hírös, régi szép honában,
Melyet egykoron még sokak megtiszteltek;
Orbán király alatt íly szégyenek estek.

Április 24, 2013

Eliezer Ben Amramnak
http://drmandler.wordpress.com/

Guest
Gyor Calling! Thanks Steven and Ron for KLS’ latest. She says:It will therefore appear to tinker endlessly with its laws in order to give the impression that it is still in a “dialogue” with European bodies. This is the essence of Orban’s technique in dealing with the EU: a dirty word-by-legal-word slog with weasel words just to abide with the letter of the law and attempting to gainsay and trump every jot and tittle. No aspiration for a fair democracy for all Hungary’s citizens and a level playing field for politicians – just dirty hand-to-hand legal combat. This is not a responsible member of the EU – Orban and particularly Szajer, know what the spirit of the law really is – they can’t really be that ignorant can they? They just need to back off and start again – and the EU should say so – and really go for the jugular if they come up with more bullshit – and expel them if necessary. This is not a ‘peacock’ dance this is just being an irresponsible partner in a united Europe. When all the stress-testing of the legal changes should be done within the country concerned. This legal dogfight… Read more »
Louis Kovach
Guest

Newsreaders are often referred to as “talking heads”. In fact most of them are. The news is put together by the news staff and the annoucer reads it. Nothing unique in this in the case of MTV. There were many newsfolks who left US stations also because of disagreement with policy or personnel. A true historical evaluation would have included info from the other side also. In absence of that I again recommend the posting for a Hedda Hopper award.

Guest

In absence of intelligence and meaning I recommend Louis’ posting for a “Troll of the day” award.

Where is the “info from the other side” on North Korean (sorry, Hungarian) state tv news ?

I wonder if Louis and the other trolls ever have too endure that crap that M1 cally news – my wife only watches it once a week, even that is almost too much for her. It really is just an accumulation of lies and propaganda.

Maybe someone will analyse the M1/M2 news one day …

Member

Louis Kovach :
Newsreaders are often referred to as “talking heads”. In fact most of them are. The news is put together by the news staff and the annoucer reads it. Nothing unique in this in the case of MTV. There were many newsfolks who left US stations also because of disagreement with policy or personnel. A true historical evaluation would have included info from the other side also. In absence of that I again recommend the posting for a Hedda Hopper award.

Kovach, you may want to read the actual post before you comment on it. Toth always “wrote her own leads”. Then from 2010 it was written for her.

I wonder Kovach who is writing your comments?

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