ATV’s Judit Péterfi is looking for the real Gábor Vona

Every year TV stations cull programs with low ratings and introduce shows they think will attract viewers and hence advertisers. Hungary’s ATV is no exception. Most of its shows deal with politics: interviews in the morning, interviews in the evening, and a lot of newscasts in between. There is, of course, filler, including movies and a dubbed version of the American “700 Club” that tells how finding God has changed people’s lives. In addition, there are documentary films about Hungarian regions and cities intended to make Hungarians living abroad homesick and to nudge them to return home.

This year the staff at ATV responsible for programming decided to “lighten up” the offerings. ATV introduced four new shows that are supposed to appeal to an audience not excited by politics. We’ll see whether they did a better job this time around than in the past. For instance, years ago the management decided to scrap the excellent Monday night program Újságíró Klub with János Avar, György Bolgár, János Dési (later Péter Németh), and Tamás Mészáros. They replaced it with a similar program that lasted maybe a year. This year Sándor Friderikusz’s quality program of in-depth interviews, not just on politics, was deemed too intellectual. It didn’t attract large enough audiences, so it was dropped.

Three of the four new programs have already made their debut. In time I will take a look at all four, but here I would like to focus on the most controversial one: “Magánszféra” (Private sphere) with Judit Péterfi. Each week Péterfi spends hours with politicians in search of their private selves.

Judit Péterfi, who used to work at RTL Klub, moved over to ATV last year to be one of the lead reporters for the new program “Esti Start” (Evening Start), which didn’t exactly turn out to be a blockbuster. Thus Péterfi needed a new program. The decision was made to create an “up close and personal” program that would reveal the real person behind the public persona of politicians. The very first politician whose personal life was laid bare was Gábor Vona, chairman of Jobbik. The second show will be with Ferenc Gyurcsány.

Jobbik used to be taboo at ATV. No Jobbik politician was invited to the studio before 2014, when it was decided that it was impossible to ignore a party that received 20% of the votes in the elections. Thus, Gábor Vona has been a frequent visitor at ATV in the last couple of years, along with other better known Jobbik MPs. The kind of program ATV had in mind when it came up with “Magánszféra” is a bonanza for politicians, giving them a chance to show the world their “real selves.” I assume most politicians are eager to take advantage of the opportunity. But there’s a caveat.

I’m trying to find the right words to describe “Magánszféra.” Most of the program is an extended flirtation between the reporter and the politician, initiated primarily by Judit Péterfi. Szabolcs Dull of Index described it somewhat differently but in a similar vein when he said that this first episode reminded him of “an awkward date in which the girl tries to find out the secrets of the boy while the boy carefully avoids revealing them.” I think Dull is too kind. Some of the program was outright tasteless, venturing for instance into whether Vona is naked or not while in the sauna. We also have the pleasure of seeing the two of them doing push-ups and watching Vona being tattooed. The tattoo is enormous and elaborate.


Otherwise, we learned some trivial facts about Vona as a child, which wouldn’t help anyone understand him as a politician today. However, here and there, though not too often, a couple of sentences reveal something important about the man. One is that he is quite preoccupied with his looks and his body in general. He calls himself an introvert, which he admits is not the best recommendation for a political career. He seems to be sensitive to criticism. He avoids visiting places where he can be recognized by people who are highly critical of his politics. For example, he avoids going to the theater. He prefers movies where he can hide in the dark.

He is “self-monitoring,” as he called his constant watching of himself. For example, he is aware of the fact that he doesn’t smile enough, so when he writes outlines of his speeches he writes notes for himself like: “smile” or “slow down.” It was difficult to tell whether he considers it a plus or a minus that in his opinion his eyes are too large, but he is certainly preoccupied with them.

Very little was said about politics during the forty minutes of “Magánszféra,” with two exceptions. He said that Turkey is a wonderful tourist destination, which he reinforced by wearing a T-shirt with Istanbul written on it. He added that he considers Erdoğan “a good leader” although lately “he is making a lot of mistakes.” The second political reference was to his relationship with Viktor Orbán. It is well known that when Vona was still a university student, heading Jobbik as a student movement, Viktor Orbán invited him to become a member of his own “polgári kör,” a group of like-minded people, forming a kind of political cell. Orbán’s own group was naturally full of “important” people from inside and outside of Fidesz. Vona recalled during the show that, naturally, he was greatly honored by the invitation, but he was less enamored with the great Viktor Orbán than some of the revered politicians and public figures present.

It is a commonplace by now that Viktor Orbán is far too often inspired by Jobbik when making political decisions. He tries to take the wind out of the sails of the extreme right in order to retain Fidesz’s voting base. Vona did talk about this, adding that he was the one who first called attention to the extreme danger of the migrants to European civilization.

I don’t know whether I should recommend taking a look at this program or not. It is certainly an unusual experience. Some of Vona’s followers have been very critical of his appearance on this kind of show, but he himself loved the finished product. He thinks he came off well.

September 26, 2016
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September 26, 2016 8:35 pm

London Calling!

Oh dear! The cult of the body!

Where have we seen that before? Er……. Er…. Horse riding with a naked torso… Er… er fishing in water with a naked torso……

Oh yes! Putin! A pervert too!

Patriarchal Hungary doesn’t need another vanity-riven macho man to represent them. A narcissist juvenile with insecurities makes a terrible leader.

The electorate need a leader confident within himself who can inspire and motivate.

And one who admires Putin – and takes his funding – and who undoubtedly sees him as a role model is the last thing Hungary needs – I have reservations about the intelligence of such ‘blokes’.

Hungary needs some woman in some senior political positions to balance its ‘bloke factor’ – but I fear its years away yet.

Alex Kuli
Alex Kuli
September 27, 2016 3:59 am

“Sándor Friderikusz’s quality program of in-depth interviews, not just on politics, was deemed too intellectual. It didn’t attract large enough audiences, so it was dropped.”

Could it possibly have had something to do with Friderikusz’s arrogant, self-important manner and guests who acted like they’d just been informed they had a terminal illness?

September 27, 2016 4:18 am

Orban hit the jackpot with the migrant referendum and keeps winning says respected pundit Péter Tölgyessy.

September 27, 2016 7:42 am

Fidesz has ordered public servants in ministries (government departments) to give cold calls to voters in order to encourage them to go out and vote as the government wishes. The calls are made in working hours.

September 27, 2016 7:44 am

Réka Szemerkényi who is said to be Orban’s alter ego in DC as ambassador for Hungary is apparently a great Breitbart fan.

September 27, 2016 11:44 am

Re: American-Magyar relations if Clinton gets in

If its rocky now it will be worse. I see the American-Magyar Klub believes Trump has the right way in envisioning foreign policy towards Europe. If he doesn’t win they go on to say the US will ‘lose one of its friends in the region’. Another example seemingly of off-shore Orbanic ‘cooperation’ in assessing and working towards problem-solving solutions on the continent. The AMK and Orban…. Double trouble.

September 27, 2016 12:18 pm

On this, wrfree, I agree!

Not just Hillary will be in Orban’s case, but Bill too.

He’s already queered his pitch!

And they will not take too kindly to Orban’s pathetic attempt in trying to influence the Republican vote.

September 27, 2016 4:25 pm

‘Queered his pitch’

I like that one! Never heard that one before.

September 27, 2016 8:31 am

Re: ‘programming that is too ‘intellectual’

I can understand ATV from a business point of view to go for some new ‘celeb-politics-lite’ programming after some programming failures but if it necessitates other news offerings of ‘quality’ going off -air that isn’t such a great tradeoff since one audience gains while another loses.

News’interview programs indeed are very important in free societies with their emphasis on exchange of opinion and dissemination of information to develop debate. In the interest of the public good, I’d expect if ATV perhaps gets a hit with Ms. Peterfi’s show or from their other offerings they’d have the money to seriously develop new quality news/interview programming for a specific audience. For them then it won’t have to have the hanging albatross of ‘loss leaders’ in their program revenue column.

September 27, 2016 10:55 am

Gets a hit with Ms Peterfi?

You must be joking? Or the Hungarian viewer is not very demanding? (Not at all demanding?)

She sounds like a dumbed-down version of Olga Kalman without any brain cells.

And goodness knows Kalman flirts enough with some interviewees.

We take the BBC for granted here without realising their integrity and high journalistic standards.

September 27, 2016 11:29 am

Let me suggest this way. With all the ‘program’ failures it appears the producers are testing things on the ‘least objectional program’ basis where they’re hoping that if they just throw things out there something will stick and the programs will eventually find an audience that perhaps sees the tawdry and titillating in the celeb-political stuff stuff on as ‘ok’. At least it wouldn’t push them completely away from the program. And social media will get in on it and say ‘Hey didja see thattttttttttt!!!!!!. And then the manic ‘conversations’ start.

And yes from the looks of it Ms. Peterfi seems to be plagued with very low ratings whatever she works on. Not enticing for producers. Not sure she has a contract but talent apparently shouldn’t hold her around in television. Who is she ‘workin’ for??? There are lots of reasons to ‘dumb down’ audiences…;-)…

September 27, 2016 10:47 am
London Calling! Clinton v Trump was on the BBC World Service starting at 2am. Trump was all over the place: no ‘killer’facts; see-saw arguments that had no structure; and desperation as he floundered around. And some on here give Trump a narrow preference!! It’s clear he will never divulge his tax returns – and Clinton cleverly used the opportunity to ‘conjecture’ why that might be! She went through the full categories – however likely or not – while Trump blustered. He must have realised he would be open to this? He agreed that Clinton was experienced – but it was ‘bad experience’ – an articulation akin to a ten-year-old expressing it. He was desperately inarticulate and in the UK would never have got this far. When Hillary went through a litany of atrocious, misogynist, epithets that he had used to describe women – all he could do was ask “where did you get this?” accompanied with wan, listless denial. Truly an inarticulate, thick, unintelligent monster. How can the USA contemplate him as President? How can someone as thick as this represent the wonderful nation that is the USA? And how will he get through another two head-to-heads with Hillary Clinton?… Read more »
Alex Kuli
Alex Kuli
September 27, 2016 10:50 am

OT, but topical:

I overheard some men on talking politics at the kocsma outside Nepliget Metro stop. One of them loudly declared, “Here’s how I’m going to vote: I’m going to check “yes, to Europe,” and then check “No, get the hell out of here you stinking Gypsies.” His fellow Saturday-morning drinkers nodded in agreement.

The racism was obviously repulsive (unfortunately, I’ve heard it all before). However, I walked away with just a small glimmer of hope. If this crowd is talking about spoiling their ballots in favor of Europe, maybe Orban hasn’t won game, set and match quite yet.

September 27, 2016 11:16 am


Orban and Trump are reading from the same page:

“Tell any lie you want. You’ll get the press coverage first; the denial will get less, and will be immediately forgotten or ignored. You will never be answerable in any way for your lies. So just keep safely saying whatever is expedient for your ends and ignore completely what is true, or fair, or just. If there’s ever a fuss, just quickly press the foment-hatred buttons: That will get the tail end of the bell-curve (the people who are rather like you) behind you; and that too will percolate to the top, obliterating any fuss…”

Albrecht Neumerker
September 27, 2016 3:56 pm

I think Peterfis program is the first sign of ATVs turn to the extreme right. Sándor Német is not the most liberal person.

September 27, 2016 4:54 pm

When you want news and comment in the UK as it still is you turn to the BBC or to the commercial channels. They produce the same news coverage and comment from the same ideological staring point. You can turn to the print media, where geopolitically they pretty well adopt the same stance. Domestically they are sometimes divided but the divisons are on very narrow lines. You want a discussion programme? Go to Questuontime on BBC TV or Any Questions? on BBC Radio 4. Predictable orthodoxy in the manufactured controversy, designed to fit in with the boring guidelines of what is currently PC. There are targets for the journalist of rather obvious miscreants which would feature in any other country.
The media will reflect the “mores” of the UK as does its justice system,
Hungarian media is alleged to be a propaganda instrument. Maybe it is. What are their respective functions in Hungary and for eg in the UK?

September 28, 2016 9:32 am

Re: ‘Hungarian media is alleged to be a propaganda instrument. Maybe it is?’

Alleged and maybe? Even in front of the incontrovertible evidence that media, at the highest levels of the executive government has become more and more a targeted restrictive tool in the functioning of Magyarorszag’s alleged ‘democracy’? Time to call ‘a spade a spade’ on the issue. An issue which I firmly believe is one of the most deleterious effects on political discourse in the country.

September 28, 2016 1:05 pm

So true. My point is that you need look no further than the UK where much open debate is stifled by those who believe there is only one legitimate opinion, the politically correct one. Students and their comfort zone nonsense which would be quite funny if it wasn’t such a vicious suppression of free speech.
Every day I read anti regime articles on and elsewhere. The establishment in every country wants a clear run. In the UK they are almost there.
Did you hear the radio 4 Today programme this am on the proposals about to be put forward by the leader of the opposition. It ridiculed the proposals in a chorus of establishment broadcasters. No they were not Tories. They do not exist in the BBC. They were a chorus of labourite broadcasters of strictly politically correct views ridiculing one of their own for daring to cross the lines of Blairite new labour. Freedom of speech is a tender flower in the UK and alas it lacks the protection it is given in Republics like the US where they have actually thought it out and elevated it beyond being largely a facet of government policy on persuasion.