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.