Mária Vásárhelyi on the “media octopus” in Hungary

Yesterday I talked about the state of the Hungarian media. In today’s Galamus, Zsófia Mihancsik, who is a very good journalist, suggested to her colleagues that it would be a good idea if they learned to read. But, as some of you suggested, the slanted reporting on certain “sensitive” topics might be the result not so much of careless reading or writing but of a willful distortion of the facts. This is definitely true about media under the direct or indirect control of the governing party.

So, I think it’s time to look around a little in the world of the Hungarian media. Here I’m relying heavily on Mária Vásárhelyi’s essay “The Workings of the Media Octopus–Brain and Money Laundering” that appeared in the Bálint Magyar-edited volume, The Hungarian Octopus.

According to Vásárhelyi, Viktor Orbán’s psyche was crushed in 1994 when he  managed to lead his party with a 40% chance of winning the election into almost total ruin with 7.7% of the votes. Before that fiasco Orbán was the darling of the press, but subsequently he became the pariah of the then still mostly liberal Hungarian media. He decided right then and there that the goal is not to be liked by the existing media; rather, a smart politician should strive for a loyal media he can easily influence. In Vásárhelyi’s estimate Fidesz had the lion’s share of responsibility for the 1996 media law that turned out to be neither liberal nor democratic.

Once Fidesz won the election in 1998 Viktor Orbán made a concerted effort to build a media empire with the use of private and public money. Billions of public money were spent on establishing Heti Válasz and on the “rescue” of the heavily indebted Magyar Nemzet. And right-wing oligarchs like Gábor Széles, Tamás Vitézy (Orbán’s uncle by marriage), Zoltán Spéder, István Töröcskei, and Lajos Simicska put large sums of their own money into media outlets that were anything but profitable. They were hopeful that their investments would serve them well one day when Viktor Orbán again returned to power.

Between 2002 and 2010 the preponderance of media outlets shifted to the right. Moreover, by 2008 the liberal media’s financial situation was dire. Companies strapped for funds cut their advertising budgets, and the liberal media outlets had no rich oligarchs who could ensure their continued existence during the hard times. Since 2010 the lopsidedness between right and left in the field of media has only become worse. According to Mária Vásárhelyi, “only those messages which the government party wants to deliver reach 80% of the country’s population.”

octopus

Studying the changes in the political orientation of radio stations is perhaps the most fruitful and most telling because it is here that the Media Council, made up entirely of Fidesz appointees, can directly influence the media. It is in charge of allocating radio frequencies. As the result, in the last five years the radio market became unrecognizable. Every time existing radio stations had to reapply for frequencies, the frequencies were given to someone else. The new stations were owned by companies or non-profits preferred by the government party, and in consequence government advertisements immediately poured in. Between 2010 and 2012 some 50 local and regional radio frequencies changed hands. Of these Mária Rádió (Catholic Church) got seven frequencies all over the country and Lánchíd Rádió (also close to the Catholic Church) got five. Európa Rádió, which is close to the Calvinist Church, by now can broadcast on three frequencies. Magyar Katolikus Rádió has two local and two regional frequencies. All these stations are considered to be non-profit and therefore they don’t pay for the use of the frequencies.

Zsolt Nyerges has built a veritable media empire: he is behind “the three most valuable radio frequencies in the country.” During the same time the liberal stations have been disappearing one by one. Radio Café, very popular among Budapest liberals, lost its frequency in 2011. So did another popular liberal station called Radio1. Of course, Klubrádió is the best known victim of Viktor Orbán’s ruthless suppression of media freedom. Klubrádió began broadcasting in 2001 and could be heard in a radius of 70-80 km around Budapest. By 2007 the station had acquired eleven frequencies and could be heard in and around 11 cities. Soon enough Klubrádió was the second most popular radio station in Budapest. Today, Klubrádió after years of litigation moved over to a free but weaker frequency that it already had won before the change of government in 2010. Out of its 11 provincial stations there is only one left, in Debrecen, and we can be pretty sure that as soon as its contract expires Klubrádió will no longer be able to broadcast there either.

As for the public radio and television stations, let’s just call them what they are: state radio and television stations as they were during socialist times. But then at least the communist leaders of Hungary didn’t pretend that these media outlets were in any way independent: the institution was called Hungarian State Television and Radio. They were at least honest. The only difference was that in those days state television and radio aired excellent programs, especially high quality theatrical productions and mini-series, all produced in-house. Now I understand the programming is terrible and only about 10% of the population even bothers to watch MTV, and most likely even fewer watch Duna TV. Their news is government propaganda: on MTV more than 70% of the news is about government politicians and the situation is even worse at Magyar Rádió.

These state radios and television stations have a budget of over 70 billion forints, a good portion of which ends up in the hands of Lajos Simicska. How? MTV and Duna TV no longer produce shows in-house but hire outside production companies. Thus, public money is being systematically siphoned through MTV and Duna TV to Fidesz oligarchs. The programs are usually of very low quality and complete flops.

Most Hungarians watch one of the two commercial stations: RTL Klub and TV2. Both are foreign owned but as Orbán said not long ago, “this will not be so for long.” And indeed, a couple of weeks ago TV2 was sold, allegedly to the director of the company. Surely, he is only a front man. An MSZP politician has been trying to find out who the real owner is. Everybody suspects the men behind the deal are Lajos Simicska and Zsolt Nyerges.

And finally, the print media is also dying, which is not surprising given the worldwide trend. But right-wing papers are doing a great deal better than liberal and socialist ones for the simple reason that public money is being funneled into them through advertisements by the government and by state-owned companies. Even free newspapers are being brought into the right-wing fold. There was a very popular free paper called Metro owned by a Swedish company. But Orbán obviously wasn’t satisfied with its content. So, the government severely limited the locations where Metro could be stacked up, free for the taking. Thus squeezed, the Swedish owner decided to sell. And who bought it? A certain Károly Fonyó, who is a business partner of Lajos Simicska. The paper is now called Metropol and, in case you’re wondering, is doing quite well financially.

Napi Gazdaság was sold to Századvég, the think tank that was established by László Kövér and Viktor Orbán when they were still students. As I mentioned earlier, Népszabadság was sold recently to somebody who might be a front man for Tamás Fellegi, former minister of national development who had financial interests in the world of the media before he embarked on a political career. The paper was owned by Ringier, a Swiss company that wanted to merge with the German Axel Springer, which owns a large number of provincial papers in Hungary. Although in many European countries the merger was approved with no strings attached, the Hungarian government set up an obstacle to the merger. The merger could be approved only if Ringier first sells its stake in Népszabadság.

Fidesz hasn’t been so active online. Most of the online newspapers are relatively independent. What keeps the party away from the Internet? Vásárhelyi suspects that it is too free a medium and that it doesn’t comport with Fidesz’s ideas of control. Surely, they don’t want to risk being attacked by hundreds and hundreds of commenters. Index, howeveris owned by Zoltán Spéder, a billionaire with Fidesz sympathies. After 2006 it was Index that led the attack on Ferenc Gyurcsány and the government. Vásárhelyi predicts that Index will turn openly right sometime before the election.

The scene is depressing. There is no way to turn things around without the departure of this government. And even then it will require very strong resolve on the part of the new government to stop the flow of public money to Fidesz media oligarchs. The task seems enormous to me.

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Mr. Paul
Guest

“Vásárhelyi predicts that Index will turn openly right sometime before the election.”

It is not so easy to turn a paper if the journalists don’t agree. If there is pressure from the owner they can leak that in various ways which backfires. If he fires them right before the election it can also backfire. Vásárhelyi has a very bad opinion of Index ever since that lawsuit. So I’m not surprised she does not trust them on the election coverage as well.

Népszabadság however is still in a special position. An MSZP foundation I think still owns 27% of Népszabadság and as far as I remember they have veto power over all important issues (like appointment of editors and similar). So even if someone else buys it they can’t really do much with it as far as the content. It will have the same staff from the MSZP era and they can’t easily change that. The last such action I can recall was when the previous owner tried to put the editor of Blikk in charge but the MSZP foundation that has the 27% vetoed the change.

Member
I apologize but I must continue something from the previous Blog Post here, simply because it belongs under this entry. Media also contains marketing, posters, flyers, etc. tappanch : @Some1 The Fidesz Parliament obliged the managers of the privately owned condos to spread the Fidesz propaganda after February 15. (starting day of the election campaign) They prescribed the exact formats of the three types of Fidesz-mandated ads too. The “Nemzeti Fogyasztóvédelmi Hatóság” (Consumer Protection Authority) fines the managers (although they are not state employees), if they do not comply. For non-compliance, the fine can be as high as 500,000 HUF http://www.nfh.hu/magyar/informaciok/letoltheto/egyebek/rendkivuli/rezsicsokkentes_rendkivuli/hirek_140122_1.html http://www.nfh.hu/magyar/informaciok/letoltheto/egyebek/rendkivuli/rezsicsokkentes_rendkivuli/nap_140218_1.html This is pure totalitarianism, but Europe is silent. OMG! You say Europe is silent, but simply I just do nothing they know. I did n to know. How many of us here on this blog knew about this, and I think many of us are more tapped into these kinds of things than most. WE do need to put together a list of irregularities. If we do not do it, none else will. Eva’s next Blog entry about the “free media’ is also depressing. Can we call the upcoming election free and democratic, when there are different promotional… Read more »
Mr. Paul
Guest

Éva if you want to write about media corruption and disgusting decay in the Hungarian media, a story truly stands out (be warned before you click it is truly disgusting from a journalism ethics standpoint – I used an URL shortener, it masks the claim)

http://goo.gl/8YTYYP

In short it is about an unsubstantiated claim from an unreliable source that the people in question vehemently deny. In any decent press outlet such a story would never get printed. They would first check if there is any truth to it. Not this media outlet though. They do print it because it will generate clicks, generate views, and as a result ad revenue.

Éva, I suggest / ask that you remove this comment after you’ve read it. I don’t want to get accused of trying to spread this story, I merely want to bring it to your attention as an example of the state of the Hungarian press which was the topic of your last two posts.

Jeno Geza Szabo
Guest
444.hu as well as cink.hu have gawker.com (whose owner Nick Denton spent years in Hungary in the 1990’s and whose mother was from Hungary) as their model. Gawker.com is a real muckraker publication, but this is the only way you can build a presence in the internet media, though that alone will not suffice. See the relatively new vs.hu which has struggled to gain readership, just another website will not do. The Left totally abandoned the media. I never got it why they did not have thought about it? Even when the two major national radio broadcast frequencies were distributed, when Laszlo Majtenyi resigned as head of the media authority, after the mutyi (corrupt deal) between Fidesz and MSZP, Fidesz absolutely wanted one frequency for its own Class Radio (although by that time it had Info Radio and other frequencies). MSZP almost until the end wanted to give “his” frequency (the other from the two frequencies to be awarded) to Danubius, which was a foreign-owned, but independent radio, as MSZP did not itself have an own media/radio strategy. In the very end Neo FM applied, thought to be close to MSZP, but in a couple of years it folded, it… Read more »
An
Guest

Some1 :
I apologize but I must continue something from the previous Blog Post here, simply because it belongs under this entry. Media also contains marketing, posters, flyers, etc.

tappanch :
@Some1
The Fidesz Parliament obliged the managers of the privately owned condos to spread the Fidesz propaganda after February 15. (starting day of the election campaign)
They prescribed the exact formats of the three types of Fidesz-mandated ads too.
The “Nemzeti Fogyasztóvédelmi Hatóság” (Consumer Protection Authority) fines the managers (although they are not state employees), if they do not comply. For non-compliance, the fine can be as high as 500,000 HUF
http://www.nfh.hu/magyar/informaciok/letoltheto/egyebek/rendkivuli/rezsicsokkentes_rendkivuli/hirek_140122_1.html
http://www.nfh.hu/magyar/informaciok/letoltheto/egyebek/rendkivuli/rezsicsokkentes_rendkivuli/nap_140218_1.html
This is pure totalitarianism, but Europe is silent.

Not only that but Fidesz encourages people who live in the house to REPORT ON the manager if he doesn’t comply. I saw the article on this on galamus.hu, but can’t link it, as the site seems to be down. Pure totalitarianism, I agree.

Member

M Corvin :
Such a hateful garbage from an old unclenched women who does it for money.
Seinfeld? “balogh” you are eliminating any comments that would reveal you are a disgusting liar like the nazis or the neonazi jews . Good luck Ms. Fuhrerin.

@ M Corvin And what articles are you referring to as hateful garbage? Reasons and facts would take you further then your foaming mouth. There are many alternative media sites and other locations out there that would welcome you. In fact most of the media is owned by your friends, so why not post there?

Member

An :

Some1 :
I apologize but I must continue something from the previous Blog Post here, simply because it belongs under this entry. Media also contains marketing, posters, flyers, etc.

tappanch :
@Some1
The Fidesz Parliament obliged the managers of the privately owned condos to spread the Fidesz propaganda after February 15. (starting day of the election campaign)
They prescribed the exact formats of the three types of Fidesz-mandated ads too.
The “Nemzeti Fogyasztóvédelmi Hatóság” (Consumer Protection Authority) fines the managers (although they are not state employees), if they do not comply. For non-compliance, the fine can be as high as 500,000 HUF
http://www.nfh.hu/magyar/informaciok/letoltheto/egyebek/rendkivuli/rezsicsokkentes_rendkivuli/hirek_140122_1.html
http://www.nfh.hu/magyar/informaciok/letoltheto/egyebek/rendkivuli/rezsicsokkentes_rendkivuli/nap_140218_1.html
This is pure totalitarianism, but Europe is silent.

Not only that but Fidesz encourages people who live in the house to REPORT ON the manager if he doesn’t comply. I saw the article on this on galamus.hu, but can’t link it, as the site seems to be down. Pure totalitarianism, I agree.

I found it. Unbeliaveble. It is like living in the Rakosi era. Orban will now make neighbours report on neighbours. It is like North Korea. http://www.galamuscsoport.hu/tartalom/cikk/359848_fidesznek_renduletlenul_jelents_fel_oh_magyar

Bowen
Guest

@Some1: well, I guess that answers your question about whether tenants could vote for this goverment display or not. Anyway, now all my neighbours know exactly how much each other’s energy bills are, so we can compare!

Further to this, an acquaintance of ours (American with Hungarian wife) enquired into buying a flat in Budapest. They came across a new law coming into effect in January which says that foreigners can’t be sole owners of a property – i.e. if the Hungarian spouse died, the foreign partner would have no claim on that property. This is what they were told by a lawyer, and I’ve been trying to find out if it’s correct or not …

andy - open question to the eidtor-in-chief
Guest

I suggest we have two pools of discussion –
— One, the chiildren”s pool where the participants can “fröcskölni vizet” (inundate each other with filty garbage – with glee)
— and another, where more like-minded less aggressive types can bathe, swim, and chat in tranquility.

I fully know that readership may (or may not) be minimised in the ‘quartier intellectuel’ but at least it will not be interrupted by angry, incomplete and bizarre horse-crap being thrown at one-antother. The latter obfuscates the process of seeing a clearer picture, but may be beneficial to those who like to increase their adrenaline quotient by any means they can muster…

If I knew our editor-in-chief’s position in this matter I could better adjust my aim cause we appear to be defenseless in the current situation.

Discussions of principle in the foreground may prevent effective results.

If we are not careful, given the current hysteria in the Hungarian media, we could well become inundated by more of the same – and get dragged more deeply into it.

LwiiH
Guest

Finally some MSzP billboards have appeared.. but billboards are still dominated by Fidesz and government sponsored (orange) billboards with statements like; 0 debt in 2014. The municipalities are now overtly funding the Fidesz campaign.

Max
Guest

Éva: “Századvég, the think tank that was established by László Kövér and Viktor Orbán when they were still students.”

Századvég Publishing was established in 1985 by István Stumpf who is currently judge at the Constitutional Court. In 1991, Stumpf established the Századvég Political School.

Guest

Bowen: “Further to this, an acquaintance of ours (American with Hungarian wife) enquired into buying a flat in Budapest. They came across a new law coming into effect in January which says that foreigners can’t be sole owners of a property – i.e. if the Hungarian spouse died, the foreign partner would have no claim on that property. This is what they were told by a lawyer, and I’ve been trying to find out if it’s correct or not …”

It must be true. It is in the best Fidesz tradition. I imagine that the last and unwritten paragraph of the law says:
“The ownerless property which results from this law is to be distributed at our discretion.”

There is no limit to their avarice, one of the mortal sins.

Paptschack
Guest

Bowen:

EU citizens can freely purchase any non-agricultural property in Hungary if such property is their primary residence.

Non-EU citizens probably still need a permission from a local governmental branch office (kormányhivatal) and that process may have been made difficult.

But an outright prohibition sounds questionable to me. The reason is that it would be much better to leave the theoretic legal possibility open (subject to the discretionary power of the administrative office). In this way the Parliament (Orban) can claim that there is no general restriction, while in practice it just so happens that certain ‘low-level burocrats’ decide to deny permission (but this way it is very difficult to prove discrimination or a prohibition applying to OECD citizens).

HiBoM
Guest

I find it a trifle bizarre that Vásárhely is attributing the failings of the 1996 media law to Fidesz, given that it was enacted at a time when the MSZP/SZDSZ coalition enjoyed a 2/3rds plus majority in parliament.

The accusation that Index is “right wing” is just silly. It is not slavishly pro the opposition but in any normal democracy, that would be regarded as a default position. Sadly, the Hungarian liberals are just as averse to pluralism in the media as the neanderthal right. Just think of ATV’s Újságíró Klubja, in which the events of the week are analysed and discussed by an unchanging panel with identical views. What sort of discussion is that?

tappanch
Guest

The golden interior of the Chief Prosecutor of Ukraine:

http://4ubuk.blogspot.se/2014/02/blog-post_23.html

Now I would like to see Chief Prosecutor of Hungary, Polt’s palace too!

(I expect lots of dead animals there – Polt, vice premier Semjen and Orban’s
chief of staff Lazar are major wild animal slaughterers)

tappanch
Guest

Oops, I discovered a dagger from our minister of interior Sandor Pinter to Pshonka.
Is Pinter really a Dr. ?

comment image

LwiiH
Guest

Jean P :
They came across a new law coming into effect in January which says that foreigners can’t be sole owners of a property

I believe that would violate EU charters…

Guest

LwiiH :

Jean P :
They came across a new law coming into effect in January which says that foreigners can’t be sole owners of a property

I believe that would violate EU charters…

So what?

tappanch
Guest

@Jean P

Straight from the gov’t.

Real estate acquisition by foreigners after December 15, 2013:

You do NOT need a government permission

1. if you inherit the property
2. if you are the citizen of a member state of the European Union
3. if you are a dual citizen and one of the citizenship is from the EU

http://www.kormanyhivatal.hu/download/0/da/f0000/T%C3%A1j%C3%A9koztat%C3%B3%20k%C3%BClf%C3%B6ldiek%20ingatlanszerz%C3%A9se.doc

tappanch
Guest

Fidesz-created, new money laundering scheme.

If you freeze your money of uncertain origin in special accounts called “Stabilitás Megtakarítási Számla” for 5 years, it becomes yours tax-free and penalty-free.

https://www.unicreditbank.hu/maganszemelyek/megtakaritasok/specialis_termekek/stabilitasi_megtakaritasi_szamla.html?defaultLanguage=hungarian

Member

Eva S. Balogh :

tappanch :
Oops, I discovered a dagger from our minister of interior Sandor Pinter to Pshonka.
Is Pinter really a Dr. ?
comment image

Possible. All these police officers finished law school somehow at night. I’m sure he was one of those. Otherwise, I think, he started at the police as a driver of a truck or something like that.

Pal Schmitt was a Dr. after all.

Member

tappanch :
Fidesz-created, new money laundering scheme.
If you freeze your money of uncertain origin in special accounts called “Stabilitás Megtakarítási Számla” for 5 years, it becomes yours tax-free and penalty-free.
https://www.unicreditbank.hu/maganszemelyek/megtakaritasok/specialis_termekek/stabilitasi_megtakaritasi_szamla.html?defaultLanguage=hungarian

THat will go right there with the scheme introduced prior. That one guaranteed that in exchange for paying 10% tax there will be a no question asked policy on any money coming back to Hungary as long as it would be invested into government bonds. (Maybe the details are fuzzy in my memory.) I also remember that Fidesz claimed that why they had to introduce this legislation and why was this a success because in 2008-2009 people did not trust the Hungary as it was at the brink of bankruptcy, but now people trust Hungary. Effectively this was (is) a very nice scheme of money laundering. Imagine Hungarian people who were involved in human trafficking? (THere are plenty of Hungarians are involved in this old business.) They could finally get all there money back to Hungary with no problem.

HiBoM
Guest

It always makes me cringe when Hungarian “qualification” snobbery raises its ugly head. So what if Pinter started ilfe driving a truck? The Hungarian intelligentsia might be a bit more effective and have its collective head screwed on more firmly if only more of them had started life driving trucks. Pintér did a law degree which confers the title “Dr”, annoying though it is. But make no mistake: Pintér is an extremely competent criminal who has built up a vast and convoluted empire. That requires a great deal of practical intelligence so don’t underestimate him. The anti-Christ? Possibly. Stupid? Definitely not.

tappanch
Guest

The US political evaluation of the economic situation in Hungary, Slovakia & Romania

B-Visa refusal rate, %

HU; SK; RO;

2006: 12.7; 16.0; 34.1
2007: 10.3; 12.0; 37.7
2008: 7.8; 5.3; 25.0
2009: 21.1; 8.3; 26.3
2010: 34.5; 11.8; 24.8
2011: 31.1; 16.6; 22.4
2012: 17.0; 13.5; 17.0
2013: 31.6; 15.3; 11.5

http://travel.state.gov/content/dam/visas/Statistics/Non-Immigrant-Statistics/RefusalRates/FY13.pdf

An
Guest

@HiBoM: There is no need to get snappy. We’ve seen how some doctoral degrees can be “earned” in Hungary, so I understand that some people are skeptical with politicians’ titles. Getting a legit doctoral degree, by the way, has actually a lot more to do with honest hard work than with intelligence.

tappanch
Guest

Poll byTarki

Is life better now than in the Communism?

Yes: 26%
Same: 20%
Worse: 44%

Overall, was it worth dropping the Communist system?

Yes: 47%
No: 39%

No, by party preference:

MSzP: 63%
E14-PM: 58%
DK: 52%

Jobbik: 46%
Fidesz: 29%
LMP: 20%

http://www.tarki.hu/hu/news/2014/kitekint/20140224_rendszer.html

Dr. L. PETROVICS Ofner
Guest
Dr. L. PETROVICS Ofner
NOTHING GOOD, ALL IS BAD and insidious? Look at these very happy staff and hopeful young people with substance in their hope. Looks damned good to me. http://geforcee.geblogs.com/ FAR FROM HATING the enormous work that goes into this Spectrum, Eva, I admire the amount of time you give your opinions. I envy that you live in country of laws where you can gain protection from hate. Those of us in Hungary CAN start approaching such luxury only recently under Orban. It was a barren wasteland land under the Liberals, while in the West most of the Liberal politicians would be sitting in jail. NOW, per citizen, we enjoy the second largest investment from the EU, while Liberals had to lie about the hard they were doing so we could get in. If FIDESZ does NOT win by a majority, SPECTRUM CONDEMNATIONS will materialize in the worst case scenario. SINCE 2008 I have been writing that only, and only JOBBIK is to be feared. Yet Romantics on our furthest shores can sit back, and brag to their grandkids, “See what a sharp political prognosticator, Gandpa is. Those Fideszniks bedded down with Fascists, and look, look, here is the new news, I… Read more »
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