The Mérték Media Monitor, an institute founded by a group of young sociologists, together with Medián, a well-known polling company, has twice assessed the Hungarian public’s sources for political news. In both 2012 and this year the poll showed that the overwhelming majority (71% in 2015) of Hungarians learn about political events from the two commercial stations, RTL Klub and TV2. The internet followed with about 35%, radio with 21%, and only 5% from the print editions of dailies and weeklies.
The 71% would be an impressive figure if it meant that the respondents regularly tuned in to the evening news of these stations. Alas, this is not the case. Once a week viewing was enough to be included in the 71%.
RTL Klub’s evening news is the most popular (73%), with TV2 at 62%. RTL Klub’s change of programming last summer and fall, which included more political news, often critical of Fidesz and the government, was most likely one of the causes of the steady erosion of support for the government party and Viktor Orbán.
It is worth comparing the content of RTL Klub’s evening news in 2012 with the current coverage. For this comparison I’m fortunate to have detailed data on RTLKlub’s news in 2012 for a whole week from the popular vastagbor.blog.hu‘s “zero,” who felt like Morgan Spurlock who for a whole month ate only McDonald’s fast food for the sake of a documentary. Zero called the experiment “dangerous to your life.”
Of the 141 reports 98 were either about crime and or were human interest stories. But even the 24 so-called domestic political news stories often covered events of lesser importance. For example, during the week, zero heard once that Ferenc Gyurcsány began his hunger strike and again a couple of days later that he finished it. Zero might have been too generous when he came up with 19 reports on foreign affairs. I counted fewer, because some of the so-called foreign news items were in fact human interest stories, except that what happened occurred outside of Hungary. Reading the headlines by itself is a mind numbing experience.
Well, since then quite a few things have changed around RTL Klub’s newsroom although the anchors remained the same. First of all, today the evening news is 45 minutes long, which is longer than most newscasts around the world. ATV’s “Híradó” is only 20 minutes long, although there are several newscasts during the day. The American PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) has a similarly long evening news “hour,” but they structure it differently: fewer reports but longer analyses and comments from both the left and the right.
RTL Klub’s programming is packed with news items. I counted 28 reports, including the weather, out of which only nine dealt with crime and accidents. Mind you, these stories came at the beginning of the program and lasted about 20 minutes. Interestingly enough, foreign news followed this first segment, with seven news stories, including the Greek situation and its possible effect on the Hungarian forint and the economy, Tunisia, the flood in China, the capture of the second fugitive in upper New York State, and the confrontation in Istanbul between marchers in the Gay Pride parade and the police.
The domestic scene was well covered, starting with the riot in the Debrecen refugee camp and followed by the arrest of a group of smugglers. Among the domestic news items there were at least three that might not have pleased the Fidesz activists monitoring the news. Today Lajos Kósa showed his total ignorance of the situation in countries where most of the refugees come from. He announced that in his opinion all those who illegally cross the borders of Hungary are in fact “economic migrants” because they obviously have enough money to pay the smugglers which, rumor has it, costs at least $3,000 per person. Anyone with that much money, said Kósa, could easily get on a plane and fly anywhere he wants. The only thing Kósa forgot is that one needs passports and visas for such a trip, which clearly the refugees don’t have.
Another story that might not be to the liking of the government party was the piece of news that DK (Demokratikus Koalíció of Ferenc Gyurcsány) will again demand an investigation into György Matolcsy’s failure to include two sources of income in the yearly compulsory declaration of his finances. The first time the prosecutor’s office refused to investigate because, in their opinion, that particular item “had not reached the consciousness” of the bank president for the simple reason that it was intended for and was actually given to charity. After some investigation, however, it turned out that in at least one of the two cases, he gave only part of his non-bank compensation to charity and therefore “the existence of his income must have reached his consciousness.” RTL Klub also found it worth mentioning that Origo is up for sale and that Árpád Habony’s new Modern Média Group is among those who were offered an opportunity to bid for it. By now, I’m sure that even the casual visitor to RTLKlub knows who Habony is and what it would mean if Habony managed to get hold of Origo.
All in all, if one has the patience to listen to the first 20 minutes or so, one can get a fair picture of what’s going on in the world. The foreign news is skimpy, but this is true of all Hungarian TV stations with the exception of ATV, which has a separate daily program devoted to foreign affairs called “Világhíradó,” in addition to a weekly program called “Külvilág,” which usually concentrates on one event in greater length and depth. But overall, RTL Klub is doing a good job, and I understand that their viewership has gone up since they decided to include more political items in their evening newscast.