Censorship in Viktor Orbán’s Hungary

In some cases the censorship is subtle. In other cases not at all. Both kinds involve the state-owned wire service, Magyar Távirati Iroda (MTI). As things stand in Viktor Orbán’s illiberal democracy, MTI is the sole supplier of news to the state television and radio stations. Moreover, since MTI has no competition and its service is entirely free, all Hungarian media rely on items offered by the politically controlled news agency. Even the media critical of the government. But it is becoming increasingly obvious that one must be very careful of information that comes from MTI.

Lately there were at least two instances in which MTI played games with the photos that accompanied their news items. Both involved trips the prime minister took to two Hungarian cities: Nyíregyháza in Szabolcs County and Szombathely in Vas County, ten kilometers from the Austrian border. Orbán visited these places as part of his “Modern Cities” project which is, very simply put, a set of irresponsible promises made to these larger regional centers with respect to future government spending. He usually promises a stadium and a Olympic-sized swimming pool in addition to some new roads or the renovation of certain historic buildings.

News outlets that use photos provided by MTI can be mightily misled by its photographers and cameramen, who are eager to oblige and/or fearful of losing their jobs. As it is, MTI functions with a skeleton staff whose members are not sure whether they will have a job the following day if they use a “wrong” adjective in their reports.

If Orbán’s trips to Nyíregyháza and Szombathely are any indication, not so many people are interested in seeing the great man as was once the case, and in spite of local promotion of his visit only a couple dozen people showed up to greet him. The challenge for MTI’s photo reporters, in this case Zsolt Czeglédi and György Varga, was to take shots of Orbán and his few admirers that looked as if he were addressing a huge crowd. In the case of the Nyíregyháza trip, most likely nobody would have noticed that anything was distorted if the local online news site, Szabolcs Online, hadn’t published a picture of its own. And there was quite a difference between the two. The first is the most often used MTI photo by Zsolt Czeglédi and the second is the one that Szabolcs Online published.


Just to show what a difficult job Zsolt Czeglédi faced, here is the first picture again, along with three other photos of the same event, all trying to give the impression that the crowd was much larger than it actually was.


This was bad enough, but what came after that does not fall into the category of “subtle censorship.” It was outright censorship. The eagle-eyed local Fidesz crew at city hall must have noticed “the error” of Szabolcs Online. Within a short time the picture was removed from the site, though not before Kettős mérce, a left-wing blog, managed to download it.

The same thing happened a few days ago in Szombathely. But here, in addition to MTI’s photo by György Varga, a reporter from 168 Óra was also present, who took a picture of his own. Here are the two pictures for your amusement.


This time, unlike in Nyíregyháza, in addition to MTI’s brief news item, we have a gushing report by Károly Pálfi of Origo, which gives the impression of a very busy square right in front of city hall where “there is a lot of hustle and bustle” and “where youngsters are hanging out in clusters.” The reporter finds only Orbán fans, but these passersby were obviously not curious enough to stay to meet him personally.

MTI practices a more serious form of censorship when it comes to sensitive issues concerning the Orbán family or some dirt discovered on government and Fidesz officials. The latest such case is the business practices of Viktor Orbán’s son-in-law, István Tiborcz. Earlier I wrote about István Tiborcz’s rapid enrichment after marrying Orbán’s eldest daughter, Ráhel. The first post had the title “How do European Union funds end up in the hands of the Orbán family?” and the second was titled “The end of an Orbán family business?” The Hungarian media was full of stories about how Tiborcz’s business venture blossomed. Soon enough, however, Brussels took notice since Tiborcz’s business activities were financed almost entirely from EU funds. OLAF, the European Union’s anti-fraud office, started to look into Tiborcz’s business, which Tiborcz sold as soon as the Hungarian government got wind of the probe. A good English-language article appeared only a couple days ago with the title “How Brussels took on the son-in-law of Hungary’s Prime Minister.”

The dubious business activities of István Tiborcz is a topic that MTI is forbidden to report on. The very fact that Tiborcz’s firm is under investigation by OLAF is taboo. So, when MSZP wanted to publish a communiqué, which is one of the services MTI offers to political, cultural, and civic organizations, the party was denied space. They wanted to publish their reaction to the OLAF investigation. The alleged reason was that István Tiborcz is not a “public figure.” Zoltán Lukács, one of the deputy chairmen of MSZP, was outraged. After all, OLAF is investigating a firm for possible misappropriation of EU funds. How can Tiborcz not be a public figure?

The communiqué was eventually published by 168 Óra. Lukács announced that he finds “MTI’s course of action censorship” pure and simple. As Magyar Narancs said in one of its headlines: “Yes, there is freedom of the press–when I allow it.”

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November 21, 2015 9:04 pm

Károly Pálfy, the Origo scribe, quoted a man who was in the Szombathely crowd, undersized as it may have been, that saw Orbán: “At least [Orbán] stands up for the country, he’s not an asslicker.” [nem egy seggnyaló]

Pálfy has been down so long, he wouldn’t recognize an asslicker even if he saw one blow him a kiss in the mirror.


November 22, 2015 2:17 am

“censorship” pure and simple..”

If it looks like fascism, if it sounds like fascism, if it acts like fascism, it probably is one…
I wander when shall the “experts” and politicians in the EU catch up with reality and do something about carving out the brown rot.

November 22, 2015 4:10 am

Censorship is subtle. It’s not like 1835.

Nobody checked from the politburo what Népszabadsag (which used to be the daily of MSZMP, the communist party) in 1983 what it published – the well selected journalists knew the boundaries and taboos.

Self-censorship is much better. People learn quickly.

Plus there’s always the deniability. Lo and behold even the EU agreed that there’s no problem wit Hungarian media. The EU duly issued its stamp of approval when only an idiot would think that there’s media freedom in Hungary. It’s not done via laws and censorship offices but via ownership and other control mechanisms. Dictatorships evolve.

November 22, 2015 5:18 am
Kleofás has got it right, selfcensorship is the practice. Selfcensorship might be too harsh a word, however, to use in the world of Hungary. Let’s call it selfrestraint. Would ABC, BBC or CBC, the national broadcasters of Australia, Britain and Canada, have behaved differently? Likely not. MTI functions not unlike its analogs in other countries. The advent of the digital age has made it easier to expose such hamfisted attemps at image molding as occurred with the Nyíregyháza photos. Likely somebody from Fidesz, or even directly from the Prime Minister’s Office, put the word out to Szabolcs Online to remove the offending reality. Digital print media, of which Hungarian Spectrum is an example, is one thing, digital video media is another. RTL, which is owned by RTL Group of Luxembourg, is by far the most ‘critical’ of the TV news programs. It is more effective at undermining Viktor Orbán than all the online websites in Hungary put together. It is not for nothing that RTL was restricted in its reportings from the Parliament Building by László Kövér. As long as RTL exists in Hungary in its current format, RTL will do much to undermine the hold that Viktor Orbán has… Read more »
November 22, 2015 9:19 am
For those who read Hungarian this article which Eva already linked is a must. The style, the mix of overt and implied statements and the mood come straight from the Communist press of the 1970s. http://www.origo.hu/itthon/20151117-orban-viktor-szombathely-modern-varosok.html For those of who don’t, follow a sample with a distinct Orwellian whiff. To start with a couple of Orban’s bold lies about his successes: “In the foreseeable future, however, (we’ll) manage to overtake Austria… Creating full employment, is the government aim, in Szombathely it has almost been achieved, as there is less than 3 percent unemployment, this value is already as if it was full employment ….” In fact Hungary has been steadily sliding down on most economic indicators, now straggling just in front of Romania and Bulgaria. Szombathely is on the Austrian border and many Hungarians go across for work and are counted as “employed” in the Hungarian statistics. Follow “the adoration of the people” part, no comment! “HE IS FIGHTING SO MUCH FOR US. The enthusiastic audience was waiting in front of the (local council) offices. About 100 people literally charged at him. “Well, don’t you ever tire?” “I do, and I look forward to the end of the year. I… Read more »
November 22, 2015 11:07 am

“I loved the kitschy cliché of the two little old ladies, who are so satisfied, and (it is strongly implied) they know the health care system and know that there is nothing wrong with it.”

It reminds me: “…I am over hundred years old and still nothing wrong with my memory, even mentally perfectly healthy! Thanks to providence, I must knock on wood for that too..! (kock, knock…)
– Come in, it’s open..!”

Yeah, nothing wrong with the healthcare…

November 22, 2015 11:19 am

There are a whole bunch of events of the Prime Minister where they do not invite / do not allow to attend / do not allow to question certain press.

They did not allow RTL to attend the press conference of Jens Stoltenberg NATO and Victor

They did not allow RRTL to attend Orban’s pig event at Meszaros’s farm

In the past index was also forbidden from the parliament, Nepszabadsag was not allowed to take photographs at certain events, etc.

November 22, 2015 11:30 am

Considering the state of ‘free speech’ in Hungarian society I have to say I commend the seeming insouciance of those in media who do offer different versions of events with their reports and refuse to take the ‘line’ from the administration.

For sure the purported ‘democracy’ of Hungary has indeed been asleep at the wheel of media freedom to the extent that they have to sit at the government spigot for ‘information’ when it comes the nation’s affairs.

Imagination can run wild if ever the Internet gets bagged by those who want a subservient electorate. A tremendous game-changer in the course of future Hungarian ‘democracy’ on top of the erosion of media freedom already.

November 22, 2015 1:30 pm


This time of sending, 12:30 PM local Texas time, US President John F Kennedy was shot in Dallas on this day in 1963.

I remember that day very well. It was a midFriday afternoon when I, a 13-year-old playing on my street in the Casa Loma neighborhood of Toronto, learned that JFK had been assassinated.

The URL links to a series of photographs compended by the Boston Globe in 2013, the 50th anniversary of the death of a Massachusetts native son.

The black-and-white photos are particularly evocative.

As I look at the 2nd picture, which shows JFK with his model-beautiful wife Jacqueline at the airport, I saw the movie-star reception that the First Couple received from the waiting admiring throng.

I thought about my now situation. Would the current leader of Hungary receive a similar response of adulation anywhere in Magyarország? Based on the recent ‘successes’ of Orbán’s outings to Nyíregyháza and Szombathely, I rather doubt it.

Were Viktor Orbán to die in office as horrendously as JFK died, or even-more benignly, would there be an outpouring of national grief for VO in a manner somewhat similar to the leadup to JFK’s funeral? Perhaps.


November 22, 2015 1:57 pm

I am sure that the crowd would be even bigger, much bigger, for the same reason!
Particularly if the history would be true to itself.
As in “repeating”.
It would well worth that few hours of cheering and clapping!
Otherwise he gets movie-star reception all the time, just look at the pictures above!
There’s obviously a reality star in the middle of the circle, must playing the leading role in a documentary…
There are very bad movies too, you know.

November 23, 2015 8:05 am

Re: the JFK assassination

You know a seminal event in United States history in our modern era. Arguably a precursor perhaps to the domestic and global terrorism we are experiencing today. It was an event that destroyed the ‘comfortableness’ and ‘goodness’ and ‘wholesomeness of American society. And it ushered in era of how the country worked within democracy for both good and bad.

November 22, 2015 2:18 pm

A wise man said once:

November 23, 2015 8:10 am

It is good that we have ‘wise’ men! We need them to speak for the silent. I like to wear my ‘1984’ shirt with George’s signature on it. Don’t mind being a billboard for things that count.