Censured journalists: The case of Lili Bayer

On September 5 the notorious 888.hu, one of the many government news sites, published a list of “foreign propagandists” of George Soros. These “foreign propagandists” for the most part are Hungarian nationals who work for various foreign-language media outlets. Some of them earlier worked for left-of-center Hungarian papers, like Népszabadság, Népszava, and Magyar Narancs but now write for the likes of Bloomberg, Reuters, and Deutsche Welle. According to 888.hu, “the international media’s accredited reporters in Budapest also look upon Uncle Georgie as their sugar daddy,” and therefore they ought to be censured.

Seven journalists and a photo journalist were included in this infamous list, among them Lili Bayer, a freelance writer whose articles regularly appear in The Budapest Beacon and the European edition of Politico. Bayer is an American national with Hungarian roots and an advanced degree from Oxford University. She writes from Budapest, although she makes frequent trips to the neighboring countries as well.

888.hu first took note of Lili Bayer in March of this year after her article, “Hungarian law targets Soros, foreign-backed NGOs,” appeared in Politico. 888.hu claimed that she is “ill-informed [and] a news fabricator.” It is unfortunate that she often writes about Hungary, they said, because she has proved many times that she doesn’t have even a basic knowledge of Hungarian politics. She merely transmits “misleading opinions.”

That was the first attack on Lili Bayer but not the last. On March 24 she was again the subject of an article. Here she was described as someone who, “besides poisoning the readers of Politico,” now “hustles Gábor Vona on the largest American Jewish portal.” The reference was to an interview Bayer did with Vona on “the conversion” of Jobbik. But the reason that 888.hu denounced “Soros’s court journalist” this time was her investigative work on Sebastian Gorka’s Hungarian past. 888.hu falsely accused her of not knowing the difference between the Horthy-established Vitézi Rend and Nazism. “The lesson, don’t ever believe anything from a liberal Sorosist.”

The next occasion for an attack came in May when Politico asked Lili Bayer to interview Zoltán Kovács, the Orbán government’s spokesman who specifically deals with the foreign media. In “Orbán’s (big) mouth” Bayer said that “if Orbán’s critics, in Brussels and beyond, often seem unable to put a glove on him, it is thanks in large part to Kovács’s mastery of the political spin. He’s won respect, grudging from his detractors, as an effective and tireless mouthpiece of his boss.” The picture that emerges from this article, I think, is fair. But obviously, Zoltán Kovács was not thrilled because, from that point on, he joined the attacks against Lili Bayer.

After the appearance of this Politico article, it was again 888.hu that led the way with a piece titled “Lili Bayer: The (big) mouth of Soros.” This time, the 888.hu journalist couldn’t come up with a single valid criticism of the article. He quoted a short passage describing Kovács’s way of handling questions: “The crackdown against watchdog NGOs? A fight for transparency. The legislation seemingly targeting the Central European University, an institution funded by the Hungarian-American billionaire and Orbán adversary George Soros? Simply an initiative to ensure equality among universities. The detention of asylum seekers during their application process? A generous offer of shelter and food.” This time the complaint was that Lili Bayer “forgets to suggest an alternative.” Why a journalist describing the manner in which a government spokesman handles questions should offer “alternatives” is beyond me.

The next day István Lovas in his blog wrote a short comment on the interview with the title “Lily [sic] Bayer’s big mug.” He complained that Politico bothered to spend that much time on a government spokesman and accused Bayer of blaming Kovács for doing his job. “One of Lili Bayer’s accusations against Zoltán Kovács is that he faithfully interprets Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s position.”

On the September 5th 888.hu “black list” Bayer is described as someone with Hungarian roots who is a contributor to the European edition of Politico. She was one of the first people to accuse Viktor Orbán of anti-Semitism after Orbán raised his voice against the subversive activities of George Soros. In addition, she published articles in the leading newspaper of the American Jewry, The Forward, in which “interestingly” she conducted an interview with Gábor Vona.

Obviously, as far as the Hungarian government is concerned, anti-Semitism is a sensitive topic. I don’t want to speculate on the reasons for this, although I could offer some plausible explanations. In any case, on September 28 the following exchange took place on Twitter. Lili Bayer wrote: “On September 26, 1920 the Hungarian parliament voted in its first anti-Jewish measures. September 2017: state-funded anti-Semitic campaign.” Zoltán Kovács, who is very active on Twitter, answered with a South Park cartoon: “Drugs are bad M’Kaaay?” which was not left unanswered: “I’m really lost for words now. The spokesman of the government of Hungary publicly accused me of being on drugs because I tweet on politics.”

888.hu, again on hand, this time called Lili Bayer “the number one American journalist of Soros” who dared to talk about the 1920 numerus clausus, but “luckily Zoltán Kovács put the agitprop blessed with modest historical knowledge in her place.” This was followed by a vigorous denial of any anti-Semitism connected to the anti-Soros campaign. Support for 888.hu’s argument in favor of the government’s position came from an article by David Ha’ivri that appeared in the Israeli Jewish Press. It claimed that anti-Soros activity has nothing to do with anti-Semitism.

One would assume that after this exchange a responsible government official would have the good sense to stop this unseemly exercise. But no, both Kovács and his staff seem to be fixated on everything Lili Bayer writes and are intent on keeping the “debate” going. For example, back in August someone from the prime minister’s office accused her of writing about Hungarian politics without knowing a word of Hungarian. She posted a video to her Facebook page in which she proved otherwise. Apparently, an apology followed. But obviously, that was an aberration.

On September 28, the very same day that Kovács responded to her on Twitter, Kovács spent a considerable amount of time Bayer-bashing in an interview with Egon Rónai of Egyenes beszéd. He used the South Park cartoon, he explained, because Lili Bayer is affected by “the drug of calling certain people Nazis and anti-Semites.” He said that “we don’t consider her a journalist but a political activist.” She is coming “from the same universe as George Soros,” which naturally is a cardinal sin for the Hungarian government. Kovács admitted that he had already complained about her to the editor-in-chief of Politico “sometime at the beginning of the year.”

During the conversation it became clear that Lili Bayer is not the only journalist who has crossed Kovács. On the very same day two other journalists had to be “disciplined.” A German and a Brit. They had to be straightened out because, who knows, maybe Kovács will refuse to work with them in the future. The government has already declined to give interviews to certain domestic media outlets or doesn’t allow them to be present at key government functions. Now it seems that Kovács is contemplating extending the ban to certain foreign papers as well. At least this is what his threat of not working with Lili Bayer implies.

September 30, 2017
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Member

Lili Bayer is one of my heros. I follow her on LinkedIn and Facebook. We need many more of her. I’m sure she reads your blog, so I’d like to wish her all the best! Keep up the good work! Don’t let these nuisances let you down!

dos929
Guest

Dear Eva and us, your readers, better watch out, as these Orwellian thugs representing the Hungarian mafia Government are spreading their web to ‘catch’ as many intellectuals that are against their regime, as their power allows. And this power of theirs seem to be growing by the day and heading towards a limitless end…. Their propaganda machine, thanks to today’s technology, is exceeds even that of the Nazi regime’s.

The hold on the media by Orban and the FIDESZ is unparalleled in the history of Hungarian journalism with the sole exception of the Rakosi and the early years of the Kadar regimes. The way I see it in this 21st century Europe that the whole situation in Hungary is so surreal that it is unlike a bad dream that one wakes up from, but a continuous nightmare that haunts us 24/7…

Stephan
Guest

It´s the same old story:enemies make votes. They need to fuel their electoral campaign, that´s why they apply blame games. I had the same experience 5 years ago, when I started my job as a correspondent for German Public Radio. The government uses also external Hungarian institutions to try to make shut up journalists. The try to exercise pressure using every channel available: Kumin on TV, Ambassadors, Hungarian Organizations, orchestrated shitstorm, defamation via friendly German-speaking Online-outlets, my old father living in Hungary received calls from Hungarian Expats, but also lovebombimg-tours in the newsrooms.

Ferenc
Guest

Stephan questions to you, as somebody with experience in RTV media:
-did you report your experiences back to your German medium?
-what should and/or could other EU public media do in relation to HU public/state media?
-how far are other EU public media really aware of the current state of the HU public and other media?
-could it be a good idea to send experienced foreign correspondents, who have not been stationed in Hungary before, to Hungary for letting them prepare good background stories about the current state of the HU media and the causes for it’s development into this?

Guest

To emphasize what dos929 and Steohan wrote, here’s an “article” from the blog of Zoltán Kovács:
http://abouthungary.hu/news-in-brief/the-press-has-more-freedom-in-eastern-europe-than-in-the-continents-western-half/
Does he believe this?

Ferenc
Guest

An article incl.translation of the original 888.hu article (2017.Sep.05) was published Sep.12 at https://budapestbeacon.com/list-introducing-soros-foreign-propagandists/
It’s interesting to check the people listed there, most have produced very good work available online!!
Also mentioned by BB is that 888 continued to target others, next on Sep.11 was Gergely Brückner of index.hu. Don’t know who, if any, were next after that…

Ferenc
Guest

In the linked 2017.May interview with / article about Kovacs one line really sticks with me: “[Kovacs] conveying his arguments like a man who deeply believes every word”.
Well I can not imagine that all those OV&Co people really believe all what they are saying (publically). Of course this may be my limited imagination. Nevertheless it keeps gnawing inside me, how they are able to say what they say.
I can so far come up with two explanations:
a.they really believe what they say, then I can somehow only feel very sorry for them and all the people who put their trust in them, and wish them to rediscover as soon as possible to their own human senses
b.they are convinced they need to say things, which they don’t believe themselves, in order for achieve a future higher goal, in this case I very much fear for the future of the Hungarian people and it’s neighbors, if they stay in power

Member

Ferenc, I’m not a prosopologist but to my eyes there is a complete lack of scruples of any sort in the face of Zoltan Kovacs. When his brow furrows, his eyebrows raise and he keeps muttering “illetve”, he’s in the process of telling tall tales; when they descend, he is feeling wrath at being doubted (by his interlocutor). Never a moment of doubt — not because he believes what he’s saying, but because he does not care. He is merely un unprincipled opportunist working to get his (or rather Orban’s) will done. In contrast, one sometimes sees momentary discomfort when Gergely Gulyas (who is somewhat smarter but no more honest than ZK) is telling his lies. His face betrays that he is aware of what he is doing, and only 99% at ease with it. But, in general, with opportunistic propagandists like these it is not unlike the way it is with true-believing cultists (or any other psychopath): Saying things contrary to the truth is a constantly exercised practice, as automatic and unquestioned as riding a bicycle. It’s what you want that matters, not what’s true.
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Guest

I don’t know enough about these people but just compare them with Bannon e g who imho totally believes his own propaganda – or doesn’t he?
There are crazy people obviously – just think about the Flatearthers …

Brian
Guest
I personally like Zoltán Kovács and met him once by chance briefly. Intelligent, kind and let’s face it, like it or not he does do his job brilliantly. There is a voice of every leader in this world and I don’t imagine his job is not without headaches. I don’t think using a South Park image was the best decision for a man in his position but I will always give him credit for some of his interviews and how well he handled heavy questions thrown at him regarding attacks on our country. Hungary and Hungarians are incredible. I’m very proud to have Hungarian blood and be a citizen. Hungary has never had an easy journey from past to present day but the Magyar blood is resistant, brave and kind. I respect Zoltán Kovács and our PM Orbán as I look at my country of birth and the “selfie-loving-do-nothing” kitty-quois PM that got his position from his failed daddy and see that our PM Orbán and Zoltán Kovács really work hard and have many issues to solve. I don’t agree with some decisions like more bloody stadiums, waste of money Olympics, the state of the M3 line or some poverty… Read more »
Guest

@Brian (the latest Fidesz troll here?):
Just looking at your idol’s blog here:
http://abouthungary.hu/the-spokesmans-blog-zoltan-kovacs/
I can’t eat as much as I want to throw up …
Horrible propaganda! An example:
“Today three out of four Christians in the world are persecuted, and the western world knows little about it,” Zoltán Balog, minister of Human Resources, said

wrfree
Guest

One of Mr. Kovács’ stature should know there’s more than one side to a ‘story’. As all individuals make need some medication to be on the healthy side, Ms. Bayer is certainly the ‘aspirin’ to the Kovács headache. The journalist ‘brand’ is exceptional and writes with integrity and concern for the nation. Her pen is logical and powerful therefore it happens to ruffle some feathers.

Aida
Guest

Brian, you sound like a reasonable fellow, even if profoundly mistaken. Your Hungarian blood, as you call it, is no excuse for anything. Your country is seriously in the wrong. Your Prime Minister and his government are clearly not supporters of a liberal world order. Their methods of political debate are seriously questionable. What are you trying to tell us beyond showing that you belong to another world and one most of us here do not like.

Member
Sorry, Brian, expressions like “Magyar blood” can hardly be used outside Hungary without intelligent readers reacting to the Nazist connotations. Obviously, many Hungarians still believe that their biological heritage has something that makes them superior to other peoples. And probably this also has something to do with the recent outbursts of racism. After the Őcsény incident, György Balavány wrote about this on HVG: http://hvg.hu/itthon/20170930_balavany_nekunk_ocseny_kell_menekultek_idegenellenesseg . He claims (and I find it very convincing) that Hungarians are still captives of national myths: “the glorious past” (Hungarians were the most superior and dominant people in ancient times), “the outstanding talent” (basically all important cultural innovations were invented or created by Hungarians), “we don’t deserve this” (each and every misfortune the Hungarians experience is a case of blatant and global injustice), “endangerment” (we are constantly under attack, because everybody hates us, and our nation and language can die out any time if we don’t fight back), and, above all, “everything is the fault of somebody else”, that is, there is a total lack of critical self-reflection. Certainly, Hungarians are not alone in this. (As a linguist, I find one of Balavány’s examples very insightful: the myth of “our particularly rich language”. There are… Read more »
Brian
Guest

“magyar a vérem” is not politically correct? Bloodlines of ancestry? In German we use Blutsrecht aber Abstammung. This world has become insane with trying to be so damn PC. Yes. I’m very proud to have Hungarian blood in my veins. Don’t get the wrong meaning. It simply implies büszke magyar vagyok. Hopefully Hungary will legalize weed so we can all chill a bit. 🙂

Guest

In German we use Blutsrecht aber Abstammung.
What kind of nonsense is this?
It’s not grammatically correct German and also factually incorrect!

Brian
Guest

Actually it is. I’m also German.
Proud of that blood as well.
Nothing wrong with being proud of your bloodlines.
Rough trade in this group. Relax. I come in peace.

Guest

If you really can read German:
http://www.berliner-zeitung.de/nach-95-jahren-ist-das-deutsche-blutsrecht-pass%C3%A9-16615474
Ius sabnguinis is no longer valid in Germany.
And re grammar:
maybe you meant Blutsrecht oder Abstammung
aber is translated as “but”

Brian
Guest
Fat fingers. Yes, oder not aber. I think we both have fat fingers for tiny phone keyboard “Ius sabnguinis” sab does have a nice ring to it. Regardless, I respect our PM Orbán and Kovács Zoltán. I don’t care about party affiliation but protecting borders in these days was brilliant forethought. Allowing close to 1 million blood Hungarians home with Egyszerűsített honosítási in 2010-2011 was simply amazing. None of the other V4 allowed this. Trianon was an unfair part of our history and I applaud such wisdom re this law. No country is perfect. It hurts me just as much to see incredible Budapest bought up by Chinese and Middle Easterners or see historical spa become a Chinese buffet restaurant. Tell me of a country that is safe or has no corruption and let’s go. Budapest is my home and Hungary is my country. Yes, I will vote for PM Orbán at our next election. I guess if people aren’t happy they should move to another EU country but nowhere is the land of sugar and spice. Make it what you want from life for we only have a short time and I’d rather be a content man than a… Read more »
Guest

Trianon???
I rest my case …

Member

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Guest

Rather OT but illustrating the methods of today’s propaganda:
It was just found out that SPÖ, the left party in Austria, financed a smear campaign by (in)famous Israeli manipulator Tal Silberstein against their conservative coalition partner (!) ÖVP – there’ll be elections for parlaiment soon:
http://diepresse.com/home/innenpolitik/nationalratswahl/5294429/Tal-Silberstein-und-die-Wahrheit-ueber-die-SchmutzkuebelKampagnen
Now leading SPÖ politicians are saying “we didn’t know” about this – it will be interesting to find out who was involved in this and who else cooperated with Silberstein who is in prison in Israel right now …

The world is strange!

Guest

Read here about the 7.2 billion HUF (!!!) spent on those anti-Brussels and anti-Soros-billboards etc:
http://www.politics.hu/20171003/governments-favorite-pr-groups-win-big-from-campaigns-targeting-brussels-soros/
How many paper towels and rolls of toilet paper for the Hungarian hospitals could have been bought with this?

Sorry, this just had to be – since we’re helping a friend right now who has to get her treatments regularly. Every time we drive her to the hospital we could start crying looking at the poor people (both patients and workers) trying to get on with life there …