Fact checking the foreign press in Hungary

A Hungarian friend called my attention to a relatively new Internet site, factcheck.hu, surely inspired by the American factcheck. org. But what a difference. While factcheck.org has headlines like “Obama overpromises premiums” or “Obama care by the numbers,” factcheck.hu targets the foreign press: “Baseless allegations by the Czech daily, SME,” “The article in Die Presse is not supported by facts,” Huffington Post is wrong when it claims that  “Fidesz rehabilitates the Horthy regime,” “The article of The Guardian is based on misinformation.”

The publisher of this vehemently pro-government site is the Nézőpont Intézet. I think I wrote about this think tank before, but it is worth repeating that nobody takes Nézőpont seriously. To say that Nézőpont (which by the way means “viewpont” in Hungarian) has a pro-Fidesz slant is a major understatement. Their monthly polls on the population’s political attitudes deviate so radically from the other four or five, including the pro-Fidesz Századvég, that they are derided by serious followers of Hungarian politics.

Naturally, the Orbán government is quite satisfied with the work of Ágoston Sámuel Mráz, the CEO of the Institute, and government orders have been pouring into Mráz’s  companies. Yes, plural because Nézőpont established a couple of separate companies, one of which is called Médianéző (Media Observer). Médianéző received a government contract for three years (from January 2012 to December 31, 2014) to provide the government with digests of domestic and foreign newspapers. The government will pay 30.3 million forints a month for these services–more than a billion forints in three years.

Ágoston Sámuel Mráz established another company called Kutatóközpont Kft. (Research Center), which received a contract to do market research for the state-owned Szerencsejáték Zrt. (Gambling/Lottery). In 2011 and in 2012 the state lottery paid out more than about 340 million forints for services rendered. Details on Mráz’s dealings with the government and the state-owned lottery can be read in 168 Óra and HVG.

Personally, I would question the wisdom of relying on the services of a company whose owner and employees are so committed to one side of the political spectrum. Will the morning summaries of the news items that reach all important government officials accurately reflect the contents of the original? Will the selection be impartial? Perhaps this doesn’t really matter because government officials pay no attention to Nézőpont’s news summaries anyway. The contract is most likely payment for the lopsided polls Nézőpont puts out month after month.

Even though these polls bear no resemblance to reality, every Hungarian newspaper reports on what Nézőpont has to say, so they serve some propagandistic purpose. Only yesterday “Fabius,” a well known blogger, recalled the time when all other polls reported that Fidesz had lost 1.5 million voters between April 2010 and January 2012 whereas Nézőpont claimed that  Fidesz had actually lost only 200,000 voters while the opposition parties lost 450,000!

Meme (Fideszfigyelő). On the left János Lázár, Fidesz politician and on the left two independent political scientists. Far right is Ágoston Sámuel Mráz. The audience came from one of the civic cells

Meme (Fideszfigyelő). On the left János Lázár, Fidesz politician, and on the right two “independent” political scientists of Nézőpont, including Ágoston Sámuel Mráz on the far right. The audience is made up of members of a civic cell.

But let’s go back to Mráz’s latest venture, factcheck.hu. On the webpage we are told that since Nézőpont has the job of serving as media providers for the government, they decided to start a site where they would point out to Hungarian speakers all the lies and distortions of the foreign press. This venture began in June. If the Hungarian government supports their efforts I must say they don’t get much for their money. In June I found eight instances where corrections were “needed” and in July again eight short articles appeared. So far in August there is a huge void, although I could certainly come up with several important English, French, and German opinion pieces and articles about Hungary during that period.

One article they highlight is John Feffer’s piece in The Huffington Post entitled “Hungary: The Cancer in the Middle of Europe?” Since I read the article when it came out in early June 2013, I was curious what Mráz and his fellow analysts found objectionable in it. The piece is not overly long, about the length of one of the posts on Hungarian Spectrum. Interestingly enough, they found only two objectionable sentences “[Fidesz] has begun rehabilitating the dictatorial regime of Admiral Horthy (whose signed picture Adolf Hitler kept on his desk as inspiration). The social agenda of Fidesz veers rightward as well, with its attempt to declare homelessness illegal.”

Here I will deal with only with the first sentence about the Horthy regime’s rehabilitation. So, let’s see how the sharp minds at Nézőpont tackle that horrible attack on the Orbán government. Here is the lead sentence: “The first assertion of the article is misleading because Fidesz never showed any manifestation of extremist tendencies.” Did Feffer say anything about Fidesz’s extremism? Did he even say that Horthy’s regime was extremist and therefore its rehabilitation leads to extremism? No, nothing of the sort. He simply said that the Orbán government began the rehabilitation of the dictatorial regime of Miklós Horthy. I would say that this assertion is correct. First, the rehabilitation efforts are obvious; just think of all the street name changes. And second, Hungary between the two world wars was no democracy; the electoral law that included open voting in the countryside ensured that “the government party” always won the elections. The kind of dictatorial setup Viktor Orbán himself advocated in his September 2009 speech in Kötcse about a “central power,” a regime without any serious opposition, as his ideal.

So, once the “political analysts”of Nézőpont started off on the wrong foot there was no way for them to prove that Feffer was mistaken. Instead, they talked about the Memorial Day for the Victims of the Holocaust that the first Orbán government introduced. They went on about all the wonderful pieces of legislation that ensure the safety of minorities. And naturally, Nézőpont mentioned the speech Viktor Orbán delivered at the World Jewish Congress in Budapest (which the readers of this blog know was not received with enthusiasm because it contained only generalities and didn’t outline any practical steps the government would take to stem the tide of growing antisemitism in the country). What does all this have to do with Feffer’s assertion about the rehabilitation of the Horthy regime? Clearly, nothing.

This was just one sentence that appeared in one publication. Can you imagine if one actually cataloged all the “refutations” Mráz and his friends would have to come up with? But perhaps it wouldn’t be so difficult after all, because they seem to have pat answers that are copied from refutation to refutation. Here is, for example, the answer to an opinion piece in the French Libération which looks at the popularity of Le Front national. The author, Bernard Guetta, calls “the [French] situation just as grave as in Hungary” (la situation est tout aussi grave qu’en Hongrie).  What is Mráz’s answer? Practically the same as to Feffer’s article in the Huffington Post. “The Hungarian government never showed any extremist tendencies. On the contrary, it always actively stood up against extremism,” and here they repeat practically word for word what they wrote in “analyzing” the Feffer article. There was the World Jewish Congress, the Memorial Day for the Victims of the Holocaust, etc.

I should mention that Ágoston Sámuel Mráz was Tibor Navracsics’s political science student. It was Navracsics who called attention to this talented young man. What does this say about Tibor Navracsics or about Hungarian political scientists? At any event, I’m glad that the Orbán government and Fidesz are satisfied with Mráz’s job. And I’m sure Mráz is satisfied with his employers: they don’t demand much and they pay well.

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Member

The burning question remains: why did the world took up this new hobby to lie about the Orban government? Kovach? Any ideas?

tappanch
Guest

Because the world does not understand the hurt genius of the Great Orban.

Only selected dependants in Hungary appreciate Him.

Member

Amazing! Fidesz’s is still putting out this babble about how Holocaust Memorial Day should serve as proof that party members are not anti-Semitic. When I was freelancing for CNN back in 2002, I got exactly the same line shoved down my throat by an angry Fidesz press officer who didn’t like my question about anti-Semitic tendencies among Fidesz’s volunteers.

We should also recall that this is hardly the first time Fidesz has used these tactics to try to intimidate the foreign press. Back in 2001, Zsolt Bayer’s Kontroll Csoport tried to “expose” anti-Hungarian journalists. Adam LeBor was among those who were targeted. In 2000 (I think) Orban himself put out a blacklist of foreign reporters and their Hungarian sources. LeBor, Michael J. Jordan, Miklos Haraszti and others received top honors.

Orbanites are simply too steeped in communist reporting culture to realize: In Western countries, BEING PLACED ON A GOVERNMENT BLACKLIST IS MAJOR PRAISE. I am only angry that I haven’t made it onto any Fidesz blacklists yet.

petofi
Guest

First, you make them objects of praise; set them up as examples for others; shower them with government contracts and funds….and then, eventually, they will be shackled and reduced to servitude.
The Orban Way.

Penny Sue Oswalt
Guest

As we say here in America…..the first one to leave the “banana bunch”….gets “skinned”!!!!

Szabolcs
Guest
You miss the broader point. Nézőpont is just one of the many comprehensive Fidesz-backed partizan “think thanks”. These companies, like Századvég, Strategopolis etc. do everything from polling to distributing various political analyses, which are then printed out without editing in every media outlet (“why, it comes from a respected research company, and it’s free”),which are trying to move the opinions and thus play their roles. They are part of a well-thought out and managed broader media power conglomerate of Fidesz, in which Heti Válasz and Lánchid Rádió and Metropol and Klassz FM and Helyi Théma and Debrecen Municipal Gazette, “Friends of Hungary” (in the US) all have assigned role. So what does the left has? I tell you. Nothing. No media. No think tanks. (Does anybody remember Demos?, muhahaha). And worse, no ideas to set up any. Századvég, the original Fidesz think thank has existed for decades, on top of which Fidesz has built an enormous expertise on how to run, manage, finance these outlets. There is no such expertise and experience on the left. They are completely without vision and strategy. Media is power, as we have seen from Berlusconi to Cameron’s or Blair’s hobnobbing with Murdoch or Rebecca… Read more »
Blumi
Guest
OT: note how Fidesz is targeting the battle-ground districts strategically. You had the Székesfehérvár government meeting with the Dunaferr nationalization idea the other day, now you have Szombathely which will get a new – wait for it – football stadium and related sports facilities worth some HUF 12bn. Szombathely is close to the Austrian border and in that region one of the few areas where Fidesz is not omnipotent, and the left has a high chance of flipping it (although in order to win the elections, the left would have to flip much more solidly right wing districts which seem, to be honest, hopeless). MInd you Budapest will not be wasted money on (it will have the Metro 4 subway line just in time for the elections) since it is lost (Fidesz will seriously lose many districts there). Smaller regional towns will likely get further presents perhaps Szolnok/Kecskemét (it has been solidly Fidesz town lately but just to make sure), perhaps Eger, Tatabánya, Győr? (Note how Sopron is lost, especially compared to Győr, but Sopron is so solidly Fidesz voting that national politics does not care at all that compared to Veszprém or Győr no investment is being made, the… Read more »
Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest

And to think that the number of Foreigners in the World is constantly on the rise! 🙂

They could have a field day with French national media only, whose coverage of Central European politics, is, to say the least, subpar, and too often more focused on their own domestic issues than on anything else. And since, as it seems, most of their readers don’t care either, articles about Hungary are filled with factual errors, either historical or contemporary.

But the factcheck.hu people seem very lazy, to say the least. Only sixteen items in three months? And as Dr Balogh point out, they seem more interested in the refutation of opinions than on the correction of erroneous facts, which is a big mistake.

Wait & see…

tappanch
Guest

To cheer you up, Hungary is still better than Syria or North Korea.

Kim Jong-un’s Ex-Girlfriend ‘Shot by Firing Squad’:

http://english.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2013/08/29/2013082901412.html

Ron
Guest

I believe factcheck.hu website is operating illegally, but I am not a legal specialist.

If I try to click one of the logo’s on the webpage it does not provide a link to the website. So I click on the Huffingtonpost.com and nothing happens. Did they got approval for publishing huffingtonpost articles or any other articles for that matter. I do not think they asked. Normally you provide a link to the article, but they just copied it over and translated it (correctly?).

Btw here is the real link. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-feffer/hungary-the-cancer-in-the_b_3402128.html

A Reader of Hungarian Spectrum
Guest
A Reader of Hungarian Spectrum

Dear Dr Balogh, I’m an avid reader of your blog but I never really comment. However, I would like to ask a question in regards to the article although it may be a bit off topic. Is the latest opinion poll from Nézőpont Intézet an indication of whom Orban Viktor would like to be his challenger? Or is it just a way to stir the political left up against each other? The reason I ask this is that I always assumed that they would use Nézőpont Intézet and possibly Századvég to push and promote the lefts candidate that has the greatest probability to fail against Orban Viktor in the elections? Or am I reading into this too much?

tappanch
Guest
tappanch
Guest

The appeals court of most politically motivated trials has become the Szeged court – Fidesz expects good results there.

Why and who – details:
http://www.nepszava.hu/articles/article.php?id=673088

FoolsAgain
Guest

Horthy could fool the Hungarians.
The result was not too uplifting:
http://www.nyugat.hu/tartalom/cikk/spiegler_elemer_legidosebb_szombathelyi_zsido_holocaust
Rakosi had his run with strong armtwisting from Stalin.
Orban can fool the Hungarians again.
Orbanism may lead to another meltdown.
The list of horrible leaders will continue.
Until….
Can we ever hope for a new Deák?

Ron
Guest

Breaking: It seems that MSZP and E14 – PM solved their differences. And we have an agreement.

http://www.atv.hu/belfold/20130829-mszp-egyutt-kozel-a-megallapodas

Member

tappanch :
Summary of changes in the Orbanized school system:
http://infopoly.info/szulok/2013/08/23/amit-minden-szulonek-tudnia-kell-tanevkezdes-elott/

We need to summarize it in English … Hungarians already know this. 🙂

– Mandatory school age is lowered to 16.
– Mandatory staying in school until 4pm. Parents can send letter to ask for a permission to be excused.
– Teachers teaching hours increased from 22 to 26 + 6 mandatory hours in school (duh!, to be with the children because of the 4pm rule). Side note: now they will have 18 minutes of prep time for every hour in they teach.
– Very heavy police presence in the schools. This is to prevent cyber crimes and drog related crimes. Side note: i’m sure the internet part involves inspecting network traffic.
– Police can arrest children for truancy. No kidding.
– Mandatory community service or no maturity exam (no college) from 2016.

… and many more …

As Hoffman said recently “we need to introduce more children to Christian values”.

BONUS

– Special education schools are coming back. Meaning spec. ed. children are kicked out from normal schools.

Member

Eva S. Balogh :

Ron :
Breaking: It seems that MSZP and E14 – PM solved their differences. And we have an agreement.
http://www.atv.hu/belfold/20130829-mszp-egyutt-kozel-a-megallapodas

This sounds fair to me.

The agreement is this: the party with most votes gives the PM. Fair? Yes. Good for the country? No.

Member
Blumi : OT: note how Fidesz is targeting the battle-ground districts strategically. You had the Székesfehérvár government meeting with the Dunaferr nationalization idea the other day, now you have Szombathely which will get a new – wait for it – football stadium and related sports facilities worth some HUF 12bn. Szombathely is close to the Austrian border and in that region one of the few areas where Fidesz is not omnipotent, and the left has a high chance of flipping it (although in order to win the elections, the left would have to flip much more solidly right wing districts which seem, to be honest, hopeless). MInd you Budapest will not be wasted money on (it will have the Metro 4 subway line just in time for the elections) since it is lost (Fidesz will seriously lose many districts there). Smaller regional towns will likely get further presents perhaps Szolnok/Kecskemét (it has been solidly Fidesz town lately but just to make sure), perhaps Eger, Tatabánya, Győr? (Note how Sopron is lost, especially compared to Győr, but Sopron is so solidly Fidesz voting that national politics does not care at all that compared to Veszprém or Győr no investment is being… Read more »
oneill
Guest

“Special education schools are coming back. Meaning spec. ed. children are kicked out from normal schools”

Meaning educationally normal Roma kids will be kicked out from “normal” schools more like.

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