For Viktor Orbán the Hungarian media is still too free

I understand that Viktor Orbán is mighty annoyed with the independent media, which in his opinion remains far too critical of his government. For instance, hard-working journalists have unearthed an incredible number of corruption cases. I know that people like to complain about the quality of Hungarian journalism, and I myself often grouse about articles that are hard to follow or are sloppy. On the whole, however, Hungarian journalists should be commended for working under difficult circumstances for very little money. There are a couple of politicians who decided to specialize in exposing corruption cases, like Ákos Hadházy (LMP), Péter Juhász (Együtt), and lately Bertalan Tóth (MSZP), but the bulk of the corruption cases came to light thanks to the growing number of investigative journalists.

Investigative journalism was a new field in post-communist Hungary. I still recall how feeble the first attempts were in the first half of the 1990s. But by the early 2000s there was a handful of first-rate investigative reporters who were, for example, instrumental in informing the public about the enrichment of Viktor Orbán and his family, which was of course modest in comparison to the situation today. And by now there are at least two NGOs, Direct36.hu and Atlatszo.hu, that are non-profit investigative journalism centers “with the mission to expose wrongdoings and abuse of power through fair but tough reporting.”

Orbán would like to tone down or, better yet, stifle the media’s outcry over what’s going on in government circles. His government’s first move was to transform the public broadcasting system, whose staff even before 2010 had been less than independent from Fidesz influence, into a totally servile government propaganda machine. An incredible amount of money was and continues to be poured into a TV station that practically no one watches. Once the low viewership numbers became obvious, the government started a new channel specializing in sports, which is used as a “pseudo news channel.” Every fifteen minutes or so “government news” is broadcast between sports events. This way there is no escaping the news–news that bears a suspicious resemblance to that broadcast in the Rákosi and the early Kádár regimes. People in the trade swear that by the second half of the 1980s journalists at the state television and radio stations had more freedom than employees of the state television and radio stations do today. Just one example. Journalists stopped people on the street to ask about their reaction to the migrants. When one woman said that she has no problem with them, she was told that they are not interested in what she has to say.

Prior to February 2015 the government had an extensive, loyal media network thanks to Lajos Simicska, Viktor Orbán’s high school friend who owned a TV station, a radio station, a daily newspaper, a free paper distributed at metro stations, and a weekly magazine. The last two publications were also available online. With the fallout between the two old friends, however, Orbán lost Magyar Nemzet and HírTV, both of which were critical for his government, especially since the “state television” (MTV) turned out to be a flop. So, the pro-government gurus moved into high gear and within a year and a half managed to build an even larger network of media outlets. And they haven’t finished their job yet. Friends of the government are buying up popular media properties and transforming them into propaganda machines.

To replace Magyar Nemzet a new pro-government daily was created called Magyar Idők, which is not exactly a favorite of the public. On a list of the fifty most popular online news sites Magyar Idők didn’t make the cut. Mind you, neither did Magyar Nemzet, which in my opinion has become a quite respectable paper in the last year and a half. In addition, several other pro-government internet sites came into being, among them ripost.hu, a tabloid that has a decent-sized readership (179,842/day in July 2016).

chain

The two most popular sites are origo.hu (561,494/day) and index.hu (513,854/day). The former was recently purchased by a cousin of György Matolcsy and has since turned decidedly to the right. Apparently the future of index.hu is not at all assured because the current owner, Zoltán Spéder, is no longer a favorite of the prime minister. There are still a couple of popular independent internet sites like hvg.hu and 444.hu that trounce the official government hirado.hu in readership. Could they be in the government’s crosshairs? Surprisingly, nepszabadsag.hu is not a popular news site, despite the fact that the print version is the most popular nationwide daily paper. But even Népszabadság’s fate is not quite settled yet. There is talk about Vienna Capital Partners selling Népszabadság to the owner of Duna Aszfalt, László Szíjj, who was described by Népszava as a possible front man, along with Lőrinc Mészáros, of Viktor Orbán.

On the television front, government propaganda lost HírTV, but after a lot of finagling Andy Vajna, the former American-Hungarian movie producer who is now the owner of several casinos and a loyal friend of Orbán, purchased the German-owned TV2. Vajna, who is not exactly a poor man, didn’t have enough money for the purchase so the Orbán government gladly lent him 8 billion forints, which most people believe will never be paid back. TV2 was heavily indebted at the time of Vajna’s purchase, and it is unlikely that it will suddenly become wildly popular, surpassing the favorite commercial television station in Hungary, RTL Klub. Only a couple of their shows are attracting a larger audience, while RTL Klub has at least six such favorites.

Passing TV2 to Vajna was not quite enough for Orbán, who would like to have a quality television channel specializing in news. It looks as if there is an attempt to upgrade Echo TV, which is owned by Gábor Széles, a rich man of extreme right-wing political views. Echo TV’s current audience is very small. However, I just read that Ferenc Szaniszló, who had a weekly program and who belongs to what I call the lunatic fringe, was fired and that Echo TV is being reshaped to be a more respectable outlet of news and political discussions serving the government’s needs.

Apparently, Orbán hoped that Lajos Simicska would give up his losing media outlets. In the past, when the two men were still friends, Magyar Nemzet and HírTV received government ads galore in addition to thousands of subscriptions for government offices. Since the blow-up no government advertising money has come Magyar Nemzet’s way. Moreover, the paper isn’t getting much in the way of ads from the private sector either since rich businessmen who are heavily dependent on government orders are afraid to advertise in opposition papers. This is the way the government ensures that papers they consider to be disloyal will starve to death.

Orbán’s aim was the total destruction of Simicska’s media outlets, but so far he hasn’t succeeded. The only victim was the free newspaper Metropol, which used to be distributed at metro stations. One day the Budapest Transit Authority (BKV) broke its contract with Simicska on the grounds that he had received the right of distribution without a tender. BKV immediately signed a contract with Árpád Habony’s Modern Media Group Zrt., whose new publication, Lokál, took its place. I might add that Modern Media Group also received its contract without any competition. Lokál, being a free paper, depends on advertising, and it is chock full of government ads. The government is keeping it afloat.

The picture is grim and, I’m afraid, it can be grimmer still. One can only hope that Orbán, in his insatiable appetite for a servile media, will not gobble up every important outlet, leaving only crumbs for the opposition. If, for example, pro-government owners were to acquire hvg or index, it would be an irreparable blow to the democratic opposition.

September 22, 2016
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Bowen
Guest

Echo TV …
The new director of this station (as of August) is Farkas Boglárka, who used to be the main news anchor of Hir TV, when it was a loyal Fidesz station. So she’s very well-known in Hungary.

Oh, and she’s the ex-wife of Zsolt Bayer.

Richard Field
Guest
As the online dailies are bought up by Fidesz oligarchs (origo.hu) or go out of business (cink.hu), print weeklies like hvg, Magyar Narancs, 168óa, Figyelő, and even Simicsk’as Heti Válasz have become increasingly important sources of news. Alas, the likes of Tamás Szemerey (vs.hu) and Terror House director Mária Schmidt have trained their sites on the independent print weeklies as well. 444.hu reported the other week that business/politics weekly Figyelő may be sold off to one or the other by the end of October. However, judging from the magazine’s pronounced shift in editorial content as of late, the transaction appears to have already taken place.. The September 15th edition contains an article defending government plans to set up new government procedural courts on the grounds that “such courts exist in other European countries”. The latest edition features a lengthy interview with Zita Vajda, the 32 year-old girlfriend of Hungarian central bank governor György Matolcsy in which she essentially accuse her detractors of sexism. After all, why shouldn’t a woman with two diplomas and knowledge of two foreign languages be able to feed at the public trough as well as men with half her education and linguistic competency? The “old” Figyelő… Read more »
Observer
Guest

Good point.

Doy
Guest

You rotten falsifier, why do you push for the dictatorial image of Hungary in the media landscape as well? In a real dictatorship, such as Saudi Arabia, you and you ilk never attack, you would not be able to write a single character in public without official approval, unlike in Hungary where you run your mendacious site.

Member

Are you mad or just delusional?

Janos Mandarin
Guest

Did you stop financing LMP (Politics Can Be Different) or your Roma? Is it a coincidence that you are also a left-liberal Jew, just like all your comrades spreading lies about Hungary?

Member

When you post anti-semitic rubbish you rather prove a point.

tappanch
Guest

Watch how a taxi driver removes the anti-referendum sign and then hits the protesting activist in Szentendre. (Use Internet Explorer)

http://index.hu/belfold/2016/09/22/egy_taxis_aki_nem_rest_meghalalni_a_kormanynak_a_szolgalatait/

tappanch
Guest

He also called the activist campaigning for settling some of the mainly Muslim refugees in Hungary “you son of a Jewish whore”

tappanch
Guest

The local mayors of the Fidesz party are ordered to send out letters to implore the people to go to vote and vote for the government – I got one.

Orban threatened to replace local party bosses if the 50% turnout is not achieved in their district.

http://nol.hu/belfold/nepszavazas-kvota-fidesz-orban-viktor-felelem-politika-1633019

Fraud will be easy in the 2/3 of the election precincts, where not a single opposition vote counter or observer will be present.

tappanch
Guest

The anti-referendum posters of the “two-tailed dog party”can be watched here:

http://galeria.index.hu/belfold/2016/09/02/ketfarku_kutyapart_plakatjai/

(the government used more than 100 times the money to put up billboards supporting its own referendum)

Guest

Even if no one shows up for the referendum, the government will still come up with a sufficient turnover and an overwhelming majority of no.

Guest

I already remarked on the resignation of Tom Popper, editor in chief of the Budapest Business Journal (BBJ) after being told to stop writing about politics in the editorial column.
http://www.portfolio.hu/en/economy/hungarian_govt_bullying_tactics_work_bbj_editor_in_chief_resigns.31860.html
And he was put under a lot of pressure even though
The editor in chief does not think his critical editorials caused too much concern to the authorities which generally ignore such voices, given that two-thirds of the population speaks only Hungarian and the cabinet also knows that “controlling the local-language TV news and major newspapers is most important”. He also noted that compared to the Financial Times and the Guardian, whose critical reports about Hungary the government generally plays down as being written by “misguided foreigners whose anti-Hungarian bias is influenced by the country’s “enemies”, like Brussels or George Soros”, the readership of the BBJ is tiny.
That’s the way to go, Orbanistan!

tappanch
Guest

EU: % of population aged 25-64 with completed tertiary education, 2015:

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tappanch
Guest

Disposable income :

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tappanch
Guest

Suicide rate, 2012:

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tappanch
Guest

EU: % of population able to talk in English. Hungary is the worst, Spain is the second worst.

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Member

Bulgaria is the second worst.

tappanch
Guest

It is possible. But according to this map, Bulgaria is the third. But they do understand Russian.

But beware: направо (napravo) in Russian means turn right, and in Bulgarian straight on ! 🙂

“Be careful when nodding to mean “yes” and shaking your head when you mean “no” in Bulgaria–Bulgarians do it the opposite way! However, if they know they are speaking with a foreigner, they may accomodate by reversing the motions. Just be sure that it’s clear what set of standards they are using (and which they think you are using!) when conducting everyday transactions.” – my experience is exactly the same. 🙂

Guest

London Calling!

I find it unfathomable that the EU allows Orban to truss up the media and the legislature to a degree that slowly and inexorably renders opposition to the ‘administration’ ineffective and impotent.

And interesting that it is less free today than in the Rakosi era.

Whereas:

Poland has been stamped on by the EU for much lesser transgressions.

The lack of independence of the courts in Poland was sanctioned with a three month deadline to ensure independence – which proved not to go far enough. (A strategy straight out of the Orban ‘Páva’ dance book of EU conflict resolution.)

Back to the drawing board Poland.

Poland’s media ‘imrovements’ results in media companies now having to seek government approval to who can or cannot sit on their boards.

Again straight out of Orban’s rule book of ‘Journalist Advice – on existentialist techniques to acquire government advertising’. Or how to sink or swim.

Hungary has advanced down the autocracy route much further than Poland.

But Poland gets the sanctions.

Could it be that Hungary has a bellicose ‘Alpha’ male as prime Minister – and Poland has a woman prime minister?

Guest

As possibly being one of the posters under request of monitoring – I’d like to declare that:

I being of sound mind and body do declare that the above was written in an alcohol-free environment with no possible interaction with anything alcoholic.

Signed Charlie H 23 September 2016 10:28hrs.

pappp
Guest
The situation unfortunately can be much grimmer. I am very pessimistic. HVG has been teetering on the brink financially and one can expect the owners to sell out at any moment, obviously nobody will pay more than some Orban front man. By the way Orban’s people recently also bought Figyelő (a respected business weekly) which although still contains some investigative type articles as it used to is now full of pro-government articles, opeds, opportunities for government, or government-loyal people to spread their message on everything from migrant issue to the triumphs of the Hungarian economic government. Spéder is under pressure to sell index.hu and just as origo.hu remained exactly the same in popularity since it is clearly pro-Fidesz one can expect that even if a few (many) journalists will leave index.hu if pro-Fidesz people would buy it, it will remain very popular. Let’s not forget that to this day if one purchases a Magyar Telekom internet subscription, origo.hu (by now a unabashed government mouthpiece) is the default site. This gesture of MT’s alone is worth billions for Orban in exposure. Also remember that at one point index.hu (already then second most popular internet site) was actually owned by Wallis (then… Read more »
Member

PPPP keeps repeating the standard TTT refrain:

“Orban is winning, and unstoppable.”

“The opposition are inept losers”

The difference between TTT and PPPP?

One says it in triumphalism, the other in “pessimism.”

PPPP adds “I have a plan” (but I’m not at liberty to reveal what it is).

The only hint of a plan in PPPPs posts is:

“The opposition should smarten up and start being more like Fidik.”

Some plan! Some solution!

(TTT would put it a slightly different way: “The opposition should give up and join us.”)

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Observer
Guest

@stevan

Note also Pappp’s use of “has no clue” , the standart Fid phrase “clueless”.
Pappp now clearly comes out as a fidesznik mascarading as independent.

pappp
Guest

Observer, I used the word clueless (fogalmatlan in slang Hungarian) because I like it. It applies to MSZP and many leftist politicians. Wallis and Bajnai had no clue that internet media will be big and valuable (when otherwise internet was all the rage in international business media). They just saw that it was making some minor loss per yer when Wallis otherwise made billions on single transactions. If this is not cluelessness than I don’t know what is.

pappp
Guest

You are like the old communists in the 1950’s who were finding imperialist agents everywhere they looked. You and webber are obsessed with Fidesznik trolls.

I haven’t checked but I don’t think I ever praised a Fidesznik decision, instead I’m more or less denouncing Fidesz on a daily basis.

Yes, I do think that top leftist politicians are clueless but why would that mean being a fidesznik, I can’t understand.

tappanch
Guest

Ranking of Hungarian universities by the Times of Higher Education:

301-350: CEU (Central European University) (founded by George Soros)
501-600: Semmelweiss (Medical) U
601-800: Műegyetem, ELTE (Loran Eötvös), U of Pecs, U of Szeged
801 and up: U of Debrecen

https://www.timeshighereducation.com/world-university-rankings/2017/world-ranking#!/page/0/length/25/country/2376/sort_by/rank_label/sort_order/asc/cols/rank_only

Guest

Yes! You beat me to it!

Good to see CEU this time – Soros’ University might have to seek another country (again)!

He moved it from Prague to Budapest.

It must rankle that it is the top University in Hungary – and given the anti-Soros sentiment, he might have to move his seaside souvenir kiosk somewhere else!

And guess who is the top highest greatest ‘Pinnacle of Universitydom’?

OXFORD

The first time since TES has been publishing the list – so no bias there than.

(With commiserations to Harvard, Stamford, be Yale et al!)

Ironic in the year of you know what!

Guest

In my excitement, I forgot to mention the slippin’ and slidin’ of Hungary’s major other universities.

Memo to Zoli.

Yea Hungary is performing better.

Guest

And I’m also proud that our Schwab universities (not only famous Heidelberg) made it into the top 100, only the relatively new places like Konstanz and Hohenheim (founded less than 60 years ago …) are in lower positions (between 101 and 200) – even though we have less money and less prestige than say Yale or Oxford …

Guest

Poor Alcuin of York and Charlemagne their great efforts to encourage scholarship and learning in Europe would seem to have not made a dent in a particular country in the succeeding centuries. A sad, veritable educational desert.

Member

“He moved it from Prague to Budapest.”

I believe the original plan was a three-campus uni in Warsaw, Prague and Budapest, all operating simultaneously. So it wasn’t actually “moved” from Prague but rather that the campus there fizzled out, as did the one in Warsaw, leaving just the Budapest campus.

Guest

A bit OT:
From the same source an article on higher education in Hungary and the precarious situation of Gymnazium teachers – though three years old, still relevant and to the point:
https://www.timeshighereducation.com/comment/opinion/say-no-to-company-policy/2003217.article
From a comment on this:
Regarding the economical and emotional stress put on the teachers in Hungary, I have to agree with the author. Some great minds have to make choices whether or not to teach if they are in their pension age (currently if you are a pensioner, who can opt for your salary or your pension as payment but not both at the same time). While others opt for leaving the country and working as child minders or factory workers as they can earn a decent living.
How sad!

tappanch
Guest

More than 30,00 votes have arrived in mail so far.

2016. szeptember 14. 3
2016. szeptember 15. 7182
2016. szeptember 16. 5920
2016. szeptember 19. 7411
2016. szeptember 20. 4811
2016. szeptember 21. 5355
2016. szeptember 22. 1014

Total: 31696

tappanch
Guest

As of September 22,

332 212 voters asked to be registered for mail ballots, and
274 736 of them were accepted.

Eligible to vote

inside Hungary: 8 000 742
by mail: 274 736
at Hungarian embassies or consulates abroad: 9 399

Member

Tappanch, unlike NOL, I would be by far more concerned about the number of voters being alive and registered in the neighboring countries (mail ballots). This figure is unrealistically low, even statistically speaking: http://nol.hu/belfold/nepszavazas-hataron-tuliak-menekultek-kvota-magyarorszag-1633025

Guest

Re: ‘And they haven’t finished their job yet. Friends of the government are buying up popular media properties and transforming them into propaganda machines’

And it shows Orban as media entrepreneur doing it well too too well. He has managed to construct a media empire through a number of subsidiaries reporting to the ‘Viktor Orban Broadcasting/Internet/Newspaper/Outdoor/Magazine Network’…. ‘News that speaks with only one voice. Why confuse the issues? We make it easy for you’.

If the chains continue to be put on media outlets and all the groups involved in news reporting there could perhaps come a day where RFE might have to reprise its role from back in that ‘Cold War’ against the communists. (Looks like one right now is running ‘media’ in the country). It just might turn out to be the only ‘voice’ capable of providing a free-flow of information and news reporting to the Magyar population. But then if that happens we shouldn’t be surprised if VO hems and haws about ‘interference ‘ in the affairs of the country.

Joe Simon
Guest

It must be every politician`s dream to have a CNN-type of entertainment news coverage. Maybe that is what Orban would like to follow. The extent of in-depth discussion of political issues in Hungary whether on TV or in the printed media in simply unknown in the US or even in Canada. TV Ontario or PBS comes close.
I am constantly amazed while in Hungary just how well people are informed of critical political issues.

Guest

Re: ‘I am constantly amazed while in Hungary just how well people are informed of critical political issues’

Do you mean ‘informed’ like the Kadar days?

Observer
Guest

Fidesznik Joe
Pretty dumb joke.

Guest

Re:’ People in the trade swear that by the second half of the 1980s journalists at the state television and radio stations had more freedom than employees of the state television and radio stations do today’

That very well could be. On the other hand, I could never dismiss the notion of news reporting that ‘kept to the limits’. When a big elephant sits on you you get the idea of ‘self-censorship’. I am sure some news items were verboten to get into.

tappanch
Guest

The Orban regime has created two classes of “untouchable” people:

A. the leaders and high level apparatchiks of the Fidesz party,

B. the FFF, the former Fradi football skinheads now Fidesz troopers.

They received general amnesty for the 2006 vandalism from Orban in 2010.
Police was not willing to investigate their crime when they prevented the opposition to legally file for a referendum last Spring.
Now police is not willing to properly investigate them for breaking the finger of an artist who protested the tree cutting in the City Park.

http://444.hu/2016/09/23/a-rendorseg-feluggesztette-a-nyomozast-a-gulyas-marton-ujjat-toro-veroember-ugyeben

Guest

Re: ‘A. the leaders and high level apparatchiks of the Fidesz party,
B. the FFF, the former Fradi football skinheads now Fidesz troopers.

You know back in the olden days they threw out the ‘intelligentsia’ and replaced them with those fellows from the villages and counties who saw politics as a step up. Some governments don’t seem to worry much about cv’s and who represents them nowadays. They like it that way. Fradi and Fidesz…the ‘best and the brightest?’

Guest

O must be very insecure – the craziness of the propaganda war has reached a new height (should probably be low …):

Since this week all municipal buses in Hévíz and Keszthely show the referendum propaganda on the sides and on the back.

How many rolls of toilet paper for needy patients in hospitals could have been bought with that money?

So maybe there is still hope that more people will be turned off by this idiocies?

A bit OT:
Right now I was very surprised by the message that there were 60 new comments – for a moment I thought that a new troll war had been started! But it turned out that every comment was repeated for or six times or even more …

And even more OT:
A funny picture of O’s best friend:
comment image

Explanation:
That spiral shows the “golden ratio” applied to O’s boss … 🙂
xkcd.com is a very funny blog with comics from a mathematician – so of course it ‘s one of my favourite sites …

Guest

Witty site….love the one about someone getting turned down for a job at Google… even after baking a cake in the ‘form’ of the Internet. Probably that creativity went too far…;-)…

The Smurfs of Zala megye
Guest
The Smurfs of Zala megye
People adore Orban Viktor. They are happy and know well that nothing really can ever be perfect. This is just life. There are challenges at some hospitals but there is progress and with the commies freely plundering the nation for 8 years, what can we expect? The Canaan the next day Fidesz took over? Seriously who cares about toilet papers when the future of the nation is at stake? People know they have to sacrifice something so that something bigger than them may survive . They happily oblige and they will vote no. In the provinces people still know what a moral obligation is. They are pure and devoid of the urban liberal cynicism. This is why liberals are so surprised when people all over Hungary and beyond the borders vote for Fidesz and against liberals and communists. Orban is here to stay because he was so much smarter then the leftists. He was a visionary who knew already in 1994 that the old commies were a dying breed. It’s much too late to do anything. Without money, media, image, activists and a clear ideology the job is hopeless. The liberals should have thought about the future earlier indeed. Orban… Read more »
Member

TTT…

Guest

Re: ‘…..all the commies want is money’

Illiberalists too it seems. They also go for control and power. I don’t think the communists went away.

Guest

What does that tell us about Hungarians?

Nur die allerdümmsten Kälber wählen ihren Metzger selber!

Guest

Trousers and watch from the Red Army Surplus Store. Putin looking directly into the sun: ” Where is the water?” Spiral later addition.

petofi
Guest

For just a second I thought that Pyutin was wearing a Tilley`s Endurable!

Guest

Re: Ads and control of media outlets in Magyarorszag

The EU should try to do some good old fashioned reklam in the country. Then they’ll know how democratic the country is and how media is accessible only to the few and with the ‘right’ ideas.

Guest

Splendid idea.

Guest

Just took a look at some channels, it seems a new one called ‘Humor’ is to start in October. Going to be interesting on the vicc coming out of that one…;-)….I guess someone figured it’s time for Magyars to laugh a little.

dos929
Guest

If no one as yet realised yet, here I repeat ; ‘Orwell 1984’ >>>> ‘Orban 1998 onwards…’ Case closed.

Member

Some of the people posting here seem to have swallowed all government propaganda.

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