The state of the Hungarian press on World Press Day

Yesterday was World Press Freedom Day, proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in December 1993 following the recommendation of UNESCO’s General Conference. So, I think it is fitting to devote a post to media freedom in Hungary.

Only a few days ago I took a look at Freedom House’s latest assessment of press freedom in 199 countries, which concluded that Hungarian media freedom has been severely constrained since 2010 when Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party won the election. Although the Orbán government proclaims that the media enjoys total freedom, the fact is that by now the overwhelming majority of the media outlets in Hungary are either under state control, like the so-called public television and public radio, or have been acquired by Fidesz oligarchs who are willing conduits of government propaganda. Media experts estimate that by now 90% of all media content is in Fidesz hands.

Lőrinc Mészáros, Viktor Orbán’s alter ego and front man, owns, by the latest count, 192 newspapers in Hungary. Most of these are regional papers, which are essential for the Orbán propaganda machine. Relatively few people subscribe to national newspapers anymore. Népszabadság, before it was shut down, had the largest circulation, which by 2016 was only around 40,000. On the other hand, regional papers are sold in great numbers. Propaganda through these newspapers reaches far more people than propaganda placed in the few nationwide dailies.

The real bonus of these papers from the government’s point of view is not so much what they report on but what they leave out. A few days ago I read a fascinating study of a week’s worth of “non-news” in regional papers about the demonstrations in Budapest and some other cities. That’s why I was surprised to learn from Medián’s latest poll that people outside of Budapest were well informed about recent events in connection with the government’s attempt to close Central European University.

Outside observers might be horrified at the overwhelming presence of pro-government media in Hungary, but the government is still not satisfied. I understand that Mészáros’s company would like to acquire the few remaining regional papers that are owned by companies not connected to the government. Origo, once one of the two best internet news sites, has become a servile mouthpiece of the Orbán government rivaling Magyar Idők. Mária Schmidt’s acquisition of Figyelő is another sign of the insatiable appetite of the Orbán government. They even made an attempt to grab Népszava, which was eventually saved in the last minute by László Puch, the former financial director of MSZP. The government wants to have all the media under its control, just like in the good old days of János Kádár.

Apparently Orbán’s next victim was to be Index, considered by many to be the crown jewel of Hungarian-language internet news sites. But 444.hu reported a few days ago that in February 2014 Lajos Simicska, who became Viktor Orbán’s archenemy after March 2015, signed an agreement with Zoltán Spéder, the owner of Index, which stipulated that in the event Spéder decided to sell the site Simicska would have the right of first refusal. Simicska took advantage of this agreement on April 20, 2017, apparently in the nick of time because Orbán, through Árpád Habony and Mária Schmidt, had for some time been pressuring Spéder to sell Index. Simicska will not personally own Index. He transferred ownership of the site to a newly established foundation called Magyar Fejlődésért Alapítvány (Foundation for Hungarian Development), headed by László Bodolai, lawyer for both Lajos Simicska and Index. Without this move, Index would undoubtedly have been gobbled up by the Orbán government or one of its surrogates.

The reaction in the government media to the sale of Index was predictable. In the last couple of days one article after another has bemoaned the loss of Index. What is especially galling is that it was Simicska who prevented the takeover of the internet site. Well, it’s too late for the government to gain control of Index, but it has many ways of discriminating against the site. Independent organs normally don’t receive any advertising income from the government or from state-owned companies, but papers and television stations owned by Simicska are subject to additional hardships. One standard government ploy is that government officials are forbidden to give interviews to Simicska’s Magyar Nemzet and HírTV. Fidesz did the same thing while in opposition, when its politicians were forbidden to appear on Napkelte (Sunrise), an independently produced program Orbán deemed to be too liberal and antagonistic toward Fidesz.

Zoltán Balog has been leading the troops against Magyar Nemzet and HírTV. Simicska treated his brother-in-arms (bajtárs) shabbily, so Balog first announced that he and his ministry will refuse to have anything to do with Simicska’s media empire. Although Balog was aware that the law on public information forbids such discrimination, that didn’t seem to bother him. Moreover, that wasn’t punitive enough for Balog. By December 2016 all employees of institutions under the ministry of human resources–for example hospitals–had to get written permission from the ministry to give interviews or make statements about simple facts to anyone. For example, on December 6, 2016 a reporter for Magyar Nemzet wanted to write a heartwarming story about patients in a children’s hospital receiving gifts on St. Nicholas Day. Two hours before the event she received a telephone call from the hospital saying that she needs written permission to attend. Permission was denied. Not surprisingly, the reporter for MTI, the official news agency, had no trouble receiving permission. I assume that the legal problem of discriminating against certain media outlets and not others is supposed to be solved by requiring every news organization to obtain the requisite permissions. Meanwhile, the ministry’s boycott of Magyar Nemzet continues. When the paper filed charges against the ministry, Péter Polt’s prosecutor’s office decided that everything was in order.

Now Index has been added to the blacklist. Yesterday Sándor Joób, a well-known reporter at the news site, shared a revealing story. Index has been sending hundreds of requests for information about hospitals, for which the ministry’s permission is required. Joób wanted to talk to an official in charge of the reconstruction of Budapest hospitals. The official was most willing, but he needed permission. By mistake the reporter himself was included among the recipients of the message: “We ask you to refrain from giving this interview.” Magyar Nemzet immediately responded: “Welcome to the Club!”

Journalists at independent or opposition media outlets work under extremely difficult circumstances. For instance, Fidesz members of parliament refuse to answer any of their questions, and just the other day Lajos Kósa, head of the Fidesz parliamentary delegation, called reporters hyenas. Under these circumstances one can only admire the commitment of the journalists working for Magyar Nemzet and Index as well as other outlets like 24.hu, 444.hu, and Népszava. These journalists work for low wages and their job security is nonexistent. I just read about the former editor-in-chief of Dunántúli Napló, a regional paper in Pécs with a large circulation. After Lőrinc Mészáros’s Mediaworks took over the old Pécs standby, he lost his job. Now he is selling sausages as a street vendor.

May 4, 2017
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Istvan
Guest

Hungary made the news today in a very bad way in the English speaking world with this BBC story about the now notorious Tophaz Special Home in Hungary.
http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-39803483

Ferenc
Guest

Shocking report! (by Nick Thorpehimself…)
A quote made by Karoly Czibere, Hungary’s state secretary for social inclusion, really hit me in the face:
“There are some institutions which have a very bad location, the infrastructure is very bad, and the conditions of life are very bad”
The order of importance: 1.location, 2.infrastructure, and only 3.life.
This really shows how high on the government’s priority list the quality of life for the Hungarian people is.

Observer
Guest

Tnx Eva.

It’s worth having a look at the idiocy of the orban propaganda – the subject is the appalling, probably criminal conditions in an asylum. The title/sub of the piece is:

New slander campaign against our country?
Soros is behind the organisation, which claims that the disabled inmates of the TopHouse Special Home live in bad conditions.

One can hardly make these up.

Observer
Guest

In a FASCIST “LIGHT” REGIME this is exactly what the state of the press is expected to be.

More on the Orban’s fascism in the Sándor Kerekes Hun language article:
http://kanadaihirlap.com/2013/03/21/fasiszta-e-az-orban-kormany/ and interview http://www.klubradio.hu/klubmp3/klub20170504-185852.mp3

In English the HS post http://hungarianspectrum.org/2014/11/27/sandor-kerekes-is-the-orban-regime-fascist-the-answer-is-yes/

Observer
Guest

sorry again

Orban’s fascism or the Orban fascism

wrfree
Guest

Re: ‘In a FASCIST “LIGHT” REGIME this is exactly what the state of the press is expected to be’

Perhaps we should go as well onto the entire media landscape where the name of the game is hijacking. What a swipe there too. Right under everybody’s eyes.

Lots of problems ahead in fashioning a new media world within the political one. The rigid ‘control’ is absolutely something the country has to deal with. Tough to see the Media Council/Authority acting on a PM’s desires or a few like him who enjoy the same kind of ‘programming’.

You know we’ve moved on from the years of Kadar broadcasting.
But can’t help seeing the nostalgia for constraint and control that has been continued to augment the drive for illiberalism. Arguably a ‘light’ fascism….and in general not seeing them in uniform.

Observer
Guest

wrfree

Read Gentile, Paxton, Ahrend or the mentioned HS post.

History repeats itself, but don’t expect a carbon copy (nor uniforms).
It’s the basic elements that come up again and again, because suchthe human nature.

Time and again new generations fail to recognize/deny the repetition of history, e.g. :
No, this is the past it can’t happen nowadays/here.
They can’t do THIS. (after “they” had already done bad things).

There are no independent gov organizations under the orban regime, charters notwithstanding. I challenge any and all to name one.

wrfree
Guest

Well that has to be it. The institutions themselves have fallen off the broadcasting table when it comes to practicing media freedom in the country where all voices should be heard in debate. Besides towers and pens and paper the directors are ‘owned’ too.

Man on a media mission. Really he’s picked up the East’s ‘HMV’ , his master’s voice, routine for executing and keeping power. Grabbing most media has worked extremely well for both ‘communicators’.

Words are decisive in generating compelling ideas. VO and Mr. P understand it very well as they restrict most diversified outlets from getting out ‘their words’. Fraternal brothers seem to have done a great job in media. For them they cannot condone ‘black screens’ for themselves in the production of information and they never get it. With them media then is always hearing the broadcast siren call… ‘You’re on the air!’

Joe Simon
Guest

Ti Dolgoztok. Ők lopnak.
Speaking of press freedom, can you fathom a billboard like this in the US, say about Alan Greenspan, architect of the financial crisis, that ruined the lives of millions.
He amassed a fortune of some ten million, while people lost their homes. An irate US Senator told him: You should have, you could have but you did not, That was all the criticism he got of his monumental failings.
In Hungary I see needed hard hitting criticism that is sorely lacking in the US. After all, that is always the basis of our comparison.

Observer
Guest

Ti Dolgoztok. Ők lopnak.

Absolutely, on a scale unprecedented in Hungary, Europe/the OECD.
Anyone knows a bigger heist than The Orban/Mészaros one – from 0 to the 5th richest person in 7 years on gov contracts only? And bigger succers than the Hungarians in this matter?

Member

Restitution

If I were any kind of nationalist (which I assuredly am not) I would be shame-faced about the foul depths to which the Orban regime is dragging a nation with a once-proud intellectual and cultural history. Shame, shame, shame.

The only thing that could erase this profound historic blot now is not only a resolute and decisive routing of Orban and his gang but a sincere and sustained demonstration by the society as a whole of good faith, and a determination to head, at last, in a civilized direction — a determination and demonstration not unlike that of (West) Germany across well over a half-century since WW II. (Needless to say, this will not be accomplished by voting out Fidesz and voting in Jobbik.)

http://www.history.ox.ac.uk/event/we-stand-ceu-new-directions-history-histories-formal-knowledge

Doggo
Guest
“opposition media outlets work under extremely difficult circumstances” Do they really? They get tremendous amounts of money in terms of salaries because they are maintained / supported by billionaires. For example there are press reports that employees in the Simicska media empire make a lot more than any competitors, for example Olga Kalman. Soros also pumps billions into opposition media or organizations like TASZ which act as a form opposition media through regular press releases, blogs, facebook pages and media appearances. Soros pumped untold billions into such organizations http://www.origo.hu/itthon/20170419-soros-gyorgy-tamogatas-balliberalis-oldal-tasz-helsinki-bizottsag-transparency.html just in 2015 alone he pumped in 1.2 billion HUF, more than all of the income of the opposition parties combined. Not to mention other donations and monies that Soros invested into organizations such as 444 where two of Soros associates sit on the board now. Assuming direct control, whenever that becomes necessary. Earlier I also mentioned RTL which is German owned and supports the opposition completly. This is an organization which has an income that is the largest by far of any Hungarian media organization and has owners with even deeper pockets. The financial abilities of such oligarchs and huge companies ensure that people in “opposition media outlets” will never… Read more »
aida
Guest
I do not share your complacency about the ease with which the regime’s opponents in the media are able to function. But you have a point if the next election does not chuck Orban/Fidesz on the rubbish heap of history. If it does not we will spend many hours analysing why. Maybe the electoral system is flawed. Maybe the administration of the election is corrupted. Maybe the media is so constrained that no opposition facts can be heard by the voters. The most alarming thought however is that the voters have yet again bought into the fascist message, which whilst marching under the crucifix denies the most fundamental teachings of Jesus and his Church. We have seen this with the Brexit spouting English xenophobes. Also we have the good news from Holland. We wait for the vote which should deal a humiliating defeat on the toxic, hatefilled messages from the French FN. it is a disgrace that the English Tories, the Dutch and French nationalists have substantial followings. Even the Austrians decided to do the decent thing. The English have demeaned their nation. The Hungarians might be next. I am an optimist and hope that they will not allow Fidesz… Read more »
Member

Doggo is getting evermore tedious than droll. Quo usque tandem…? Does someone really imagine that her/his/their/its omnipresence and acting-out is serving any sort of positive function? Every word is completely predictable, and false (apart from the usual seasoning of a few true but trivial commonplaces to prevent the reader from mechanically putting a negation sign before every affirmation — as well as to keep conspiracy theorists wound up…) Quo usque tandem…?

Member

I really would like to meet this “Soros” of yours. He is a real superman! And he is even richer than Bill Gates – WOW! Get off it. He is vilified by all right-wingers. Why? Because he invested some of his money into trying to make it easier for countries like Hungary to transform from dictatorships to democracies when the iron curtain fell? Now when the new dictators want to grab back the power, they vilify him. I’m sorry, this campaign against Soros is clearly #FakeNews. Every time I turn around Orban and his goons have found another way this Soros is “guilty” of. He’s faster than a speeding bullet…

Guest

It seems that Fidesz wants to continue their strategy of killing off any political competition – two examples:
New rules for billboards, tailored:
http://bbj.hu/economy/government-to-redraw-billboard-market-before-elections_132454
These new rules are maybe designed to make anything like the current Jobbik stuff Ti Dolgoztok. Ők lopnak. impossible.

And the new improved, raised ad tax:
http://bbj.hu/economy/ad-tax-hike-could-undermine-media-says-association_132453
Hungary is turning into North Korea even faster it seems …

PS:
Doggy is at it again – is this a sign that Fidesz declares any opposition to be Soros-paid? They’re getting crazier and crazier!

PPS:
The Canadian ambassador used some strong words on the Fidesz policies re CEU – very nice!
http://bbj.hu/politics/canada-expresses-serious-concerns-about-lex-ceu-amendment_132457

Ron
Guest

Eva: Lőrinc Mészáros, Viktor Orbán’s alter ego and front man, owns, by the latest count, 192 newspapers in Hungary.

I do not understand why, anybody is charging and/or forcing Meszaros with selling off a part of his media empire, being, due to monopoly position, too influential.

As far as I know they did it in the past the EU watchdog, and Hungary as well. Look at Sanoma, ProSieben and SBS. Further Hirlap had to sell his news stands, etc.

But why is the EU not moving now. Is somebody sleeping and/or not doing his/her job?

pappp
Guest

Very simple. Meszaros’ papers are all located in Hungary. The EU has jurisdiction in connection with mergers of companies if the sales revenue of the merging companies reach certain thresholds which Meszaros’ companies do not reach and are anyway not located in at least two EU member states. In the cases of the Sanoma and Prosieben mergers the EU had jurisdiction. (Otherwise the EU has no particular jurisdiction in media matters.)

http://ec.europa.eu/competition/mergers/procedures_en.html

Below those EU thresholds only the local Competition Authority has jurisdiction and it has always approved the mergers by Mészáros’ companies.

Ron
Guest

I agree with your assessment, but if there is clearly too strong dominance in Hungary. You can challenge this in Hungary, and later on EU level.
http://www.gvh.hu/en/for_professional_users/concentrations_-_mergers

Observer
Guest

Ron

You seem to miss the main points about such regimes.

By now party soldiers have been appointed everywhere – the regime has everything under its thumb. Except for the courts , but the onslaught continues there too.

Dozens of laws/ amendments are made ad hoc and passed literally within a couple of days – latest e.g. the new anti-Simicska advertising boards regulations, anti Tesco advertising tax.

Blatant Potemkin facades are being erected to cover the embezzlement and abuses and Peter Polt party soldier cum Chief Prosecutor makes sure no charges are brought against the Fid crooks.

Both the High Court (Kuria) and the Const Court (made appellate court) were stacked with Fid people.

The Stop Brussels campaigns, the never-ending “freedom struggles”, the shrill, phony nationalism are all attempts make sure that Hungary is the exclusive domain of the Orban mafia to rape and pillage unfettered.

Cosi fan tutti (i fascisti).

Ron
Guest

So you and others gave up.

Otherwise you would charge them in front of the Kuria and CC, and if you loose (which most likely would happen) you would go to the EU.

And if that would not work nothing would.

But so far nobody tried.

Member

Fidesz goon Laszlo Szabo, who also serves as deputy cabinet chief in Ujbuda, threatens 444 reporter, confiscates her telephone and deletes her photos at anti-Soros forum.
https://444.hu/2017/05/05/lerangattak-a-lepcson-a-444-tudositojat-es-elvettek-a-telefonjat-a-fidesz-konzultacios-foruman

Istvan
Guest

Gorka says news about him leaving the White House is fake. Then says he will leave when the President wants him too, which the media says will be this summer. http://thehill.com/homenews/administration/332029-gorka-reports-about-leaving-white-house-very-fake-news

Sounds like a fake response to the stories about him being on his way out.

Doggo
Guest

“Sounds like a fake response to the stories about him being on his way out.”

Rather looks like the original claims about Gorka’s immediate departure were fake news. If they were not, Gorka would not be in the White House today.

Seems like the type of fake news by which Bannon should no longer work at the WH as well. And yet he does, same as Gorka.

Istvan
Guest

On top of all other faults you appear to have a weak spot for Gorka, kutyaszerű.

Ferenc
Guest

Fake/not-fake, whatever, remains the main question to Gorka: “What, exactly, do you do at the White House?”
source: https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2017/04/26/i-have-a-clarifying-question-for-dr-sebastian-gorka/

To my knowledge question still not answered by the man himself!!

Rivarol
Guest

Jobbik has become the savior of the Hungarian opposition. Suicidal.

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