Partly because of the feud between Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his former friend and financial guru, Lajos Simicska, an entirely new media structure seems to be in the making. Lajos Simicska, a very rich businessman, was the linchpin of the so-called Fidesz media empire, at least since 2002, but even earlier he acquired a large portion of the public advertising surfaces that served Fidesz’s political purposes, especially at election times. This cozy relationship between the party and Simicska’s media and advertising empire is now crumbling. But this is only half the story.
Viktor Orbán, who is not exactly known as an internet guru, decided that Fidesz should have a larger presence online. This decision was quite independent from the Simicska affair. One of the government’s projects was to develop English-language news sites that can influence international public opinion. Perhaps the most successful site in this category is Hungary Today, a rather unfortunate name since it reminds everybody of the Russian propaganda news channel Russia Today. It is a publication of the “Friends of Hungary Foundation” that was established with massive government funding (between $15 and $20 million) in November 2012. The publication’s editor-in-chief is Szabolcs Nótin. Nótin started his career at Nézőpont Intézet, a think tank that supports the government party. After a short stint there as an analyst, he moved on to be “operative manager” of the Friends of Hungarian Foundation. After less than a year in this position he was named editor-in-chief of Hungary Today in June 2014. The site is professional and must cost a great deal of money. Obviously the Orbán government finds the investment worthwhile.
Much less transparent is a site called Daily News Hungary, which I discovered only a few days ago although it has been in existence since December 2013. Judging from the lack of comments, the site can’t have too many visitors, yet it covers politics, business, culture, society, and sports and is always up-to-date. That can’t be done without a professional staff.
In addition to foreign-language news sites, apparently the government would like to have a presence in the blogosphere. Some of the better-known Hungarian blogs have a large readership and are quite influential. But most of them are written by liberal-socialist-moderately conservative bloggers. I assume that by creating a number of blogs affiliated with hirado.hu, the government is trying to combat the influence of the existing blogs. Taking a quick look at these newly established blogs convinced me that every penny the government spends on this endeavor is a waste. The “government blogs” are apparently the brainchildren of Attila Várhegyi.
Várhegyi used to be a very important person in and around Fidesz. In the 1990s he was mayor of Szolnok and a member of parliament. He also was in charge of the party’s finances. After Fidesz won the election in 1998 he became undersecretary in the Ministry of Culture, a position he had to leave in November 2001 when he was found guilty of a breach of fiduciary responsibility. His political career seemed to have evaporated overnight. In the last few years, however, he reappeared as a high official in MTVA (Médiaszolgáltatás-támogató és Vagyonkezelő Alap), the government organization where propaganda news is created and distributed to the various state media outlets.
The blogs appear under hirado.hu, the site of the official news that one can hear on state TV and radio. I rarely bother to even look at their news items, and I assume that I’m not the only one who finds propaganda disguised as news less than palatable. On these blogs one cannot comment, only read. By the way, unlike most bloggers, these people get paid.
One of the blogs, named “Látószög” (point of view), is written under the watchful eye of Mária Schmidt, director of the House of Terror and the controversial new Holocaust Museum, the House of Fates. She admits in her introductory remarks that one of the purposes of the blog is to acquaint readers with the work that goes on in the House of Terror. She published a somewhat abbreviated version of her lecture in praise of her idol, Viktor Orbán, on this blog. The other contributors, mostly historians, focus on such topics as victims of communism, prisoners of war, and the deportation of class enemies from Budapest in the 1950s.
Another blog, called “Mozgástér” (room to maneuver), deals with political science. The editor of the blog is Tamás Lánczi, president of the notorious Századvég Intézet that might be implicated in the corruption case that led to the banning of six Hungarians from the United States. The political scientists are much more active than the historians. The last post is by László György, who tries to convince his readers that “the Eastern opening is a necessity.”
Foreign affairs is covered by “Messzelátó“(far-sighted). The “chief blogger” there is Gergely Prőhle, who lost his job in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs after the reorganization and is now undersecretary in the Ministry of Human Resources in charge of European affairs. The last post was written by Ferenc Kumin, consul-general in New York. It is about US-Israeli relations. Pröhle also wrote an obituary of Boris Nemtsov on March 1.
On “Urbánus” mayors write articles about the problems municipal leaders face. And “Gazda” (farmer) deals with topics related to agriculture.
Cink.hu talked to Károly Szita, mayor of Kaposvár who is in charge of Urbánus. Szita admitted that they have no idea about the size of their readership.
So, here is another feeble attempt to boost the government’s waning popularity. I must say that the Orbán government is grasping at straws nowadays.
And talking about blogs and bloggers. Gábor G. Fodor, who caused so much trouble for the government with his careless remarks about Viktor Orbán’s political strategies, decided to be quiet for a while. After February 23 he wrote nothing on GFG.blog.hu. Today he was back. “There is a situation. We are after Veszprém and before Tapolca. The question is: what is more important? Governance or election?… For the next three years governance has priority.” Did the government resign itself to losing Tapolca? This is what it sounds like to me.