Tag Archives: Echo TV

János Háry in the country tavern

According to supporters of the Orbán government in the journalistic world, today is another milestone in the history of Fidesz propaganda. It was almost three years ago, in February 2015, that Magyar Nemzet, HírTV, and Lánchíd Rádió, in other words Lajos Simicska’s media empire, ceased to serve Viktor Orbán’s political interests. Simicska, the old friend and financial maverick behind Fidesz as a business venture, was no longer ready to follow Viktor Orbán on his march toward Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin. Viktor Orbán and his government were left high and dry without the all-important instruments of propaganda.

Admittedly, both Magyar Televízió and Magyar Rádió had by then become propaganda machines of the government, but Orbán wanted to replace all three Simicska news outlets. The first order of business was a pro-government newspaper. By September 1, 2015, Magyar Idők was ready to be launched. By January 2016, a radio station, Karc FM, was acquired and staffed largely by people who had left Lánchíd Rádió either for higher pay or for ideological reasons. A few months ago Lőrinc Mészáros purchased the little-watched Echo TV with the intention of making a second HírTV out of it. It was this revamped Echo TV that broadcast its first program today.

We are only too familiar with the quality of Magyar Idők. It is too early to tell whether the revamped Echo TV will attract a larger audience, but I doubt it because some of the most objectionable programs and anchors remain.

Karc FM has been on the air for almost two years. At the time of its launch Ottó Gajdics, who is the editor-in-chief of both Magyar Idők and Karc FM, believed that the radio station, which serves the pro-government audience of Budapest and environs, would need a bit of time for the Fidesz loyalists to find it and become faithful listeners. Just like the liberal Klub Rádió, it has a call-in show, “Paláver,” which offers a platform for right-wingers. “Paláver” is broadcast at exactly the same time as György Bolgár’s call-in show “Megbeszéljük” (Let’s talk it over) on Klub Rádió. Gajdics made no secret of his plans to establish a radio station that “first and foremost broadcasts programs for Fidesz voters.” Gajdics, in fact, succeeded in making Karc FM a vehicle for unabashed propaganda, with an audience that was described as “horrible” in the sense that “if there is the slightest move on the part of the anchor away from the party line, the callers label him a communist.”

About half a year after Karc FM was established, a journalist from Magyar Narancs decided to listen to “Paláver.” He found that at that time at least the favorite topics were migrants, gays, and Jews. The host of the call-in show barely ever contradicts the callers, no matter what outrageous stories they come up with. The general impression was one of “solid hatred oozing out of the mouths of the Fidesz loyalists.” Perhaps not getting involved in conversations with callers is wise. Zsolt Bayer, one of the people in charge of “Paláver,” got into trouble when Bernadett Szél reported him to the Médiatanács (Media Council) for threatening anti-government activists who dared demonstrate in front of the parliament building. In his usual manner, he promised to smash their faces and to drag them in their snot and blood if they ever show up again. Karc FM got off easy. It only had to pay a 200,000 Ft fine.

A few days ago Karc FM “Paláver” was in the headlines again. Index’s Comment.blog noticed that an older woman caller came up with an incredible story about George Soros’s Mein Plan, according to which the evil billionaire wants to abolish sexes; intends to make homosexuality compulsory; plans to get rid of borders; wants to import migrants into Hungary and to transfer Hungarians into migrant countries (those who refuse to move will be dispossessed and will have to live under the bridge, but only after they change religion); envisions foreigners buying up Hungary with the money landing in Soros’s hands. In fact, Soros has already made $200,000 billion on the deal. Finally, he promised to make drug use compulsory; to encourage pedophilia; and to revive SZDSZ, which should form a government but only if Ferenc Gyurcsány is willing to become prime minister. The woman swore that she read that on the Internet and naturally was shocked, but then she talked to three other Karc FM listeners who assured her that it was true.

Well yes, all that was on the Internet all right, but on the site of Hírcsárda (News Tavern), the Hungarian equivalent of The Onion. The journalist who was listening to all that nonsense was becoming a bit suspicious, but when she was told that the caller’s friends are also convinced that this is all true, she simply responded with “this is shocking.” After the final story, about the revival of SZDSZ, the anchor screwed up her courage and informed the woman that she “didn’t know this particular book of Soros” and/or that she is “not familiar with this translation.” Once that was over with, she proceeded to read all seven theses of the Soros Plan, according to the summary that appears on the questionnaire of the latest national consultation. The exchange can be heard on the November 29 program of “Paláver” after 5:10.

Of course, general hilarity followed reports on the story, but Válasz, a right-of-center news site, didn’t think it was laughable, especially in light of the fact that the elderly woman’s friends also believed the story. There is nothing new about panic and false alarms spreading as a result of a newspaper article, but politicians shouldn’t take advantage of the phenomenon, the article said. That’s all very well and good, but we know that the Orbán government fuels uneducated people’s fear of “fake news.”

News Tavern Fake News Site! / Established in 1351

The anchor in question, Kata Jurák, is up in arms and calls the articles that appeared in the opposition media “a cocktail of lies.” Jurák also writes editorials in Magyar Idők, where her “refutation” appeared. In the article she insists that she “refuted the caller’s allegations and tried to convince the lady that what she was reciting was not written by Soros.” At the end, she “cut her off and read those ideas that were actually written by Soros.” It is true that she read the “seven theses” of Soros as summarized in the national consultation on the Soros Plan, but she didn’t refute anything. I have the feeling that these journalistic hacks are afraid to correct even the most obvious lies that their listeners come up with because otherwise they will be accused of standing on the side of the migrants and Soros and not defending the nation against all the perils of the world.

December 4, 2017

Andrea Ladó says: “I’m the one who is at home in Tusványos, not Viktor”

Yesterday I read an article in The Washington Post about the two Republican female senators who, because of their opposition to the GOP health-care effort, face backlash from men in their party. Some of the comments even included possible physical retaliation. The author of the article believes that “the language of retribution” adopted by Republican men “reflects Trump’s influence.” When the leader of a party shows that it’s okay to use the kind of language Donald Trump used during his campaign, it “catches on at other levels.”

This development is nothing new for those of us who have watched political developments in Hungary and are only too aware of the shabby treatment the few female members of parliament have had to suffer in the last seven years by brutish males whose socialization in Fidesz circles practically destines them to behave in a manner that is anything but civilized. Viktor Orbán himself has never uttered any openly demeaning epithets about women, but he has made it apparent that he doesn’t consider them to be quite equal to men. Moreover, because of his firm belief that Hungarians should “be fruitful and multiply,” women necessarily must take a back seat behind the head of the family. After all, having five children, as the Orbáns do, is pretty much a full-time job for at least fifteen-twenty years of the mother’s life.

These thoughts came to mind when I was reading articles by government-hired hacks on the “provocation” by Andrea Ladó, a native of Transylvania, who had the temerity to go to Tusnádfürdő/Băile Tușnad with the intention of expressing her opposition to Viktor Orbán’s policies. She was armed with a parasol to which was attached a sign protesting RDE Hargita Kft., a Hungarian-owned company in Székelyudvarhely/Odorheiu Secuiesc whose activities apparently pollute the environment. In addition, she carried a whistle which she planned to use to express her frustration with Orbán’s policies.

Initially she hoped for a larger crowd because she had called on friends on Facebook, but in the end she was alone. A day before Orbán delivered his speech Tamás Pindroch, nowadays of Figyelő, Mária Schmidt’s recently acquired publication, got wind of the plan and predicted that whistling in Tusnádfürdő might not be such a good idea because “the Szeklers are not such long-suffering folks as those in Budapest. Their answer to a whistle blow is a punch.” He advised them to prepare for the worst. It’s not a good idea to take advantage of the hospitality of the Szeklers.

And indeed, in no time Andrea Ladó was grabbed by her hair and thrown to the ground. A brave Szekler warrior attacked her from the back, and after a brief struggle with a security guard she was led out of the crowd among screaming men and women. The attacker turned out to be the husband of an employee of the Hungarian consulate-general in Csíkszereda/Miercurea Ciuc. Since then Péter Szijjártó announced that the man’s behavior was “totally unacceptable,” and therefore he will no longer be employed by the Hungarian foreign ministry as an occasional photographer.

Since this incident, we have learned a fair amount about Andrea Ladó, who was not a stranger to the region. She was a Szekler herself, originally from the small town of Lövéte/Lueta. For the last seven years she has been working in Budapest as a software engineer. She describes herself as a former devotee of Viktor Orbán, but she slowly came to the conclusion that her idol is marching in a direction she finds abhorrent. The last straw was Orbán’s turn to Putin’s Russia. She is also passionate in her opposition to the extension of the Paks Nuclear Power Plant. The events in Tusnádfürdő provided the final push. She is planning to join LMP.

The government press published at least six or seven slanderous articles in which they spared her no abuse. She was accused of being on drugs and therefore incoherent. She staged the whole episode in cahoots with the “liberal media hyenas” to take attention away from the gravely important message of Viktor Orbán that sets the stage for Hungary in world affairs. How else could it happen that the cameraman of HVG photographed the scene from the very first minute on? Of course, the “journalists” who write this trash also try to minimize the seriousness of an attack by a musclebound man against a small, skinny woman, especially attacking her from behind. According to László Szentesi Zöldi of Pesti Srácok, one of the most despicable right-wing journalists around, the opposition papers make “a mountain out of a mole hill.” It might not be very brave to pull a woman’s hair, but “a provocateur must be ready for the worst.” Anywhere in the world provocateurs will be beaten, will be thrown to the ground, and eventually will be led away. “It’s not nice but it’s understandable.” Moreover, Szentesi-Zöldi continues, “this is Szekler land and not Dob utca,” which is a not too subtle reference to a possible connection between Index’s journalists and their Jewish background.

Another journalist from Pesti Srácok, Szilveszter Szarvas, on Lőrinc Mészáros’s Echo TV expressed his surprise that the good Szeklers didn’t grab a knife or an adze. His companion, also a right-wing journalist, even provided a video his crew took, which naturally didn’t include the actual attack on Andrea Ladó. Those who know some Hungarian should definitely spend a few minutes to get the flavor of this so-called panel discussion.

Ladó might have been slightly incoherent at the time, but she certainly wasn’t after she returned to Budapest and gave an interview to Olga Kálmán of HírTV. Her best line was: “I’m the one who is at home in Tusványos, not Viktor.”

And that leads me to an article I received from a reader of Hungarian Spectrum. It appeared in Transindex, an internet site from Kolozsvár/Cluj Napoca, and was written by Szilárd Horváth-Kovács, a faculty member at Babeș-Bolyai University. The title of the piece is a take-off on one of those Hungarian-language posters addressed to the “migrants” which warned them that they have to respect Hungarian culture. It reads: “If you come to Transylvania, you must respect our culture.”

Horváth-Kovács finds the Hungarian government’s efforts to force its own views on national-cultural identity based on “stable ethnic composition” on Transylvanian Hungarians unacceptable. The kind of nation state Orbán advocates is incompatible with the interests of the Hungarian minority in Romania, for obvious reasons. What if the Romanian government adopts such a policy? What will happen to the Hungarian minority? Further, he argues, cultural identity doesn’t depend on ethnic homogeneity. A slogan like “Europe belongs to the Europeans” also means that “Hungary belongs to the Hungarians.” Does it mean that “Romania belongs only to the Romanians”?

Orbán’s fight against Brussels is not in the interest of the Hungarian minority in Romania. It is the European Union that guarantees their rights. Transylvanian Hungarians cannot logically be opposed to George Soros’s open society because it is that concept translated into reality that allows them to keep their ethnic identity while they are loyal citizens of Romania. At the end of the article Horváth-Kovács explains that Viktor Orbán’s ideas about nation states, his attacks on NGOs, his denigration of human rights are all against the interests of the Hungarian minority. “We used to think that Hungary is our future, but now we believe that we are the future of Hungary,” which may bring a more peaceful, more tolerant, more open Hungary. The message is quite clear: please leave us alone. Your presence is suffocating, it takes the air away from us. Please go away.

July 28, 2017

Gay “freaks” threaten Hungarian values

It was twenty years ago, in 1997, that the gay community in Budapest first celebrated “the day of pride.” Shortly after I started Hungarian Spectrum, I wrote a post about the annual event that took place on July 7, 2007. The 2007 Pride marked the first time that the march was not entirely peaceful. Jobbik, then still a very young, small party, organized a counter-demonstration whose participants soon enough were throwing eggs, tomatoes, stones, and beer bottles at the marchers. Several people were arrested. At that time it was estimated that about 2,000 people took part in the celebration. Last year the Budapest Pride put on a show on Andrássy Boulevard with 20,000 participants.

Ever since 2008 the celebrating crowd has been squeezed between miles of metal barricades. The police claim that otherwise they are unable to protect the Pride marchers.

The heavy-duty metal railing is close to impenetrable

I remember how humiliated some people inside those barricades felt. They complained bitterly, but in the intervening years nothing has changed. The police plan to erect the barricades again this year. But this time around the organizers are rebelling. Not only, they argue, is the arrangement humiliating, but people cannot join the march along the way.

The Hungarian LGBTQ community is becoming increasingly and openly dissatisfied with the situation in Hungary. By the way, about a year ago an article published in Népszabadság called attention to the growing number of gay and lesbian couples who decide to escape abroad from the widespread discrimination in Hungary.

Although the actual parade will take place on Saturday, July 8, the Budapest Pride Week officially began on June 30 at the Tesla Budapest Cultural Center. Kriszta Székely, director of the József Katona Theater, was the keynote speaker. It was a good speech, personal and moving. Although she kept saying that she doesn’t want to give a political speech, there was no way of avoiding mention of the wretched state of Hungarian society where “unhappy people without a future are being manipulated.” The palpable hate that has spread in Hungarian society is truly shocking. “Life has come to a standstill. There is only a black hole.” She talked about a country that has no brain and no heart. She complained about her fellow citizens who “tolerate a situation in which [the government] treats refugees or its own Roma citizens as if they were animals. Has everybody lost his mind and heart? … Hungarians wake up!”

These events have been providing plenty of fodder for the government media. Echo TV spent almost half an hour on an interview with one of the leaders of Momentum, the new political formation, which urged people to attend the parade in order to show solidarity with the LGBTQ community. The interview was, I suppose one could say, educational. The ECHO TV journalist confronted Edina Pottyondi, an articulate, intelligent member of Momentum’s leadership. She handled the interviewer well, but even she was somewhat stymied when asked: “Why doesn’t Momentum work on leading gay and lesbian people back to heterosexuality?” Yes, I’m afraid this is the level of discourse in right-wing circles about homosexuality in Hungary.

The homophobic Pesti Srácok tried to convince its readers that Hungarian gays have nothing to complain about because “in comparison to some other parts of the globe” they “have it easy.” Here they are–“their greatest problem seems to be the presence of metal railings which are set up for their own safety.” And then the article lists all those countries where gays have it much worse: “Turkey leads in the prohibition of Pride,” “Putin has no mercy,” “In Serbia one couldn’t march for years,” “The situation is not rosy in Bulgaria either,” “In Chechnya there are concentration camps.” Our man just compared his own country to a group of countries he most likely considers inferior to Hungary.

But at least this particular Pesti Srácok article was not vicious, as was the one written by “Ratius” on the same site. He calls LGBTQ people “freaks” (torzszülött). “The majority looks upon these people with pity, perhaps loathing or fear … and definitely not with swooning respect or yellow envy.” These people are the opposite of everything we consider beautiful, good, and correct. “They are ugly, evil, deformed with perverse desires” and society shoves them aside in order to maintain the desirable life strategies, identity for the normal members of society. There are times when “deviance” spreads in society to such an extent that its members even opt for “terrible dictatorship, hoping to curb the rampage of abnormalities.” Our man doesn’t leave us in doubt for long. Yes, he is talking about Nazi Germany. Perhaps the Nazis went too far, but “the existence of marginalized communities is not justified. They don’t have to exist. Single people, gays, Down Syndrome idiots, cannibals, religious fundamentalists, and militant animal rights activists don’t need to exist.” He kindly adds that their destruction wouldn’t be justifiable, but “the revolt of the freaks threatens our values and through that our society.” This is not dubious social engineering. “It is just common sense that we refuse human experimentation, and accordingly we lock up the insane in loony bins and send marginal communities, strange physical and spiritual gnomes where they belong.”

Pesti Srácok is a heavily subsidized government publication. Should the Hungarian government be supporting fascist or Nazi talk? Of course not, but then….

July 6, 2017

Boycotting the media is counterproductive

Until now it was only certain high-level Fidesz party and government officials who refused to give interviews to certain left-of-center newspapers, radio, and television stations. Then, two years ago, after the breakup of the long-lasting and financially fruitful friendship between Viktor Orbán and his old friend-turned-oligarch Lajos Simicska, the boycott was extended to Simicska’s newspaper, television, and radio outlets as well. Simicska’s media holdings include a weekly, Heti Válasz, which initially refused the follow the road his daily, Magyar Nemzet, chose. It remained surprisingly loyal to Viktor Orbán. One reason for this loyalty might have been the person of the weekly’s editor-in-chief, Gábor Borókai, who, after all, was the spokesman for the first Orbán government. Unlike the others since 2010, he served throughout the entire 1998-2002 period. Moreover, it is likely that the two men already knew each other while they were law students. In 2013 Viktor Orbán made sure that Borókai received a high decoration (Magyar Érdemrend tisztikeresztje).

Lately, however, even Borókai has become quite critical of the government. In November 2016 he warned that all the lying and misinformation disseminated by the government will lead to its downfall if Fidesz politicians don’t wake up. Last month Borókai wrote a critical editorial about the government’s handling of the Central European University case and even complained about the state of democracy and freedom in Hungary. The old friendship between Orbán and Borókai was coming to an end.

András Lánczi, Orbán’s favorite philosopher and president of Corvinus University, had written regularly in Heti Válasz for ten years, but when Borókai’s weekly published an interview with Ron Werber, who devised the strategy that assured MSZP’s victory in 2002, he decided to make a clean break with the publication. As he told 888.hu, he had indicated to Borókai earlier that he didn’t approve of “the new direction,” but that interview was the last straw.

Meanwhile, the output of government-paid journalists is of such low quality that serious journalists no longer consider them colleagues. Indeed, most of the young people who staff internet propaganda tabloids like 888.hu and ripost.hu don’t deserve to be called reporters, journalists, or media workers. Even so, I’m not convinced that MSZP’s decision to boycott Echo TV, M1, TV2, Origo, Pestisrácok.hu, 888.hu, Magyar Idők, Lokál, Ripost, and Magyar Hírlap is a good idea. The party’s rationale, according to party spokesman István Nyakó, is that these publications distort the opposition politicians’ answers to their questions. Moreover, these media outlets describe a nonexistent world. “We are not going to assist them in creating manipulated material.” Nyakó told the reporter of Echo TV who happened to be at the press conference that he doesn’t consider him a journalist but a paid spokesman of Fidesz. This may all be true, but I’m not sure how these politicians’ boycott will change the editorial policies of the client media of Fidesz.

MSZP’s decision to boycott Fidesz media is most likely the result of an encounter László Botka, the party’s candidate for the premiership and mayor of Szeged, had with the staff of a weekly program on Echo TV called “Informátor.” According to Botka, the Echo TV people arrived unannounced, cameras in hand, wanting to have an interview with him. Botka already had a scheduled conference, but the Echo TV staff refused to budge, and they even wanted to enter Botka’s room by force. Or at least this is what Botka claims. Apparently, at that point Botka called the police. Of course, Echo TV’s story of the encounter sounds very different from Botka’s version. In any case, Botka seems to be convinced that “the government falsification factory is trying to provoke him.” In his opinion, the journalists who work for government outlets are simple provocateurs. He knows that the goal was not to conduct an interview but to create a scandal. I fully agree with Botka, but then why did he fall for the provocation? Because by calling the police on them Botka managed to fulfill the goal of Echo TV. It might have been better to give them a short dignified interview. If their sole objective was to create a scandal, they would have traveled 300 some kilometers for nothing.

Mutual boycotting will lead nowhere, although I sympathize with those who find the output of the government propaganda close to unreadable and disgusting. Moreover, I can’t believe that such obvious propaganda, rivaling the output of the Rákosi regime, can possibly be effective from the point of view of the government. Just as eight solid years of communist propaganda between 1948 and 1956 failed to convince people that they lived in a socialist paradise, Fidesz propaganda will not achieve its aims either. In fact, it might turn people off.

In a similar vein, the latest “national consultation” seems to be a flop. Of the 8.5 million people who received questionnaires, only 1.3 million have returned them thus far. Kósa is already “asking the government” to extend the deadline from May 20 to May 31 because the post office was late in delivering some of them. Of course, the post office story is bogus. The real explanation is the stupid questions posed and the even stupider answers provided.

It’s time for Viktor Orbán to rethink his communication strategy. His massive pro-government media network may not be the panacea he anticipated.

May 16, 2017

Silencing the media: Hír TV

I have noticed in the last month or so that Fidesz and the Orbán government are paying far too much attention to Hír TV, which has gone through quite a metamorphosis since February 6, 2015, the day known in Hungary as G-Day . It was on that day that Lajos Simicska told the world that Viktor Orbán and he had parted ways. Moreover, he called Orbán “geci,” which I “politely” translated at the time as “prick.” In the original it was much worse. After this day Simicska’s daily paper Magyar Nemzet, his radio station Lánchíd Rádió, and his television station Hír TV, ceased to be government mouthpieces. I must say that, as a result, the quality of Magyar Nemzet and Hír TV has vastly improved. It is another matter that one can only marvel at the “ideological flexibility” of those reporters who remained, because the change from a pro- to an anti-government stance took place practically overnight.

The loss of Hír TV must have been a heavy blow to the Orbán government, which it tried to redress by getting Andy Vajna, the former American-Hungarian movie producer, to purchase TV2, a commercial station that serves the whole country. Although the producers of TV2’s newscast have been doing their best to tarnish the opponents of the government, Viktor Orbán is still not satisfied. At least this is the impression I got when I heard that Gábor Széles, a far-right Fidesz supporter, was ready to sell his Echo TV to Lőrinc Mészáros. With the change of ownership, the work of making Echo TV, a formerly right-radical station, into a replacement for Hír TV began. At the same time, Fidesz is doing its best to squeeze Simicska’s Hír TV financially.

Hír TV was Fidesz’s channel from the moment of its inception in January 2003. The first president of the company was the same Gábor Borókai who had been the government spokesman of the first Orbán government (1998-2002). Many of the channel’s early reporters actually ended up working for the government after 2010. In October 2015 Péter Tarr, deputy CEO of Hír TV, admitted that “members of the government’s communication team visited the station at least once a week in order to give instructions” to those responsible for the ideological content of the station. By 2007 Hír TV could reach 2.1 million households.

After G-Day, many of the top brass both at Magyar Nemzet and HírTV left, among them the staff of “Célpont” (Target), who were investigative journalists. For a while this very popular weekly program was off the air. Now, however, it is back, and rumor has it that considerable effort, financial and otherwise, is being expended to make it HírTV’s flagship program, alongside Olga Kálmán’s forthcoming interview show. Given the incredible corruption surrounding the present government, a program of this sort is certainly a good investment, especially since ATV doesn’t have the financial resources to include such a show in its programming lineup.

Distressed by all these changes at Hír TV, Fidesz and the Orbán government moved into action. Even earlier, the Fidesz leadership had forbidden members of the government and high officials of the party to accept invitations from Hír TV. Now they are putting pressure on cable companies, suggesting that they drop Hír TV from their offerings. One company, PR-Telecom, obliged and announced that as of January 1, they had dropped Hír TV along with six other, mostly foreign-language, channels. At the same time the company announced that 14 new channels will be available, among them six that are owned by Andy Vajna. While they were at it, the company picked up two porn channels as well. The majority stakeholder in PR-Telecom is an off-shore company in Malta, Central Eastern Cable & Media Group Limited, whose owner is the same man in whose yacht Lőrinc Mészáros was seen in the harbor of Zadar last summer. What a coincidence, don’t you think?

Soon enough Magyar Nemzet discovered that PR-Telekom had received state aid to the tune of 3.3 billion forints a couple of months before the cable company informed Hír TV of its decision to break its contract. The grant (and it’s an outright grant, not a loan) for improvements of the company’s network in certain regions of the country came from money Hungary had received from the European Union. This is how the EU is unwittingly aiding the undemocratic policies of the Orbán government. Luckily, not all is lost as far as Hír TV is concerned. Since the cable company’s breach of contract was illegal, those subscribers who would like to switch service providers can do so without any penalty. At least this is what Hír TV claims on its website.

Meanwhile Hír TV has been hiring people right and left. Some of them came from the defunct Népszabadság, others from the state television. The government mouthpiece, Magyar Idők, has been watching all this with a certain amount of apprehension. Its articles talked about the alleged tension within Hír TV because the same Péter Tarr who earlier had complained about government interference in its programming now announced that the channel will be even more “critical of the government.” The newspaper provided a long list of reporters who have already joined or will join Simicska’s cable network.

The government-sponsored Pesti Srácok learned that Simicska’s partner in Közgép Zrt., Zsolt Nyerges, had announced that he is no longer ready to sacrifice his quite significant wealth on Simicska’s “pointless fight” with Viktor Orbán while their business is dying. Apparently the “discussion” was so vehement that it almost turned into a fist fight. Whether such an encounter happened or not (Nyerges denies that it did), Közgép announced Nyerges’s retirement as CEO and the appointment of Ildikó Vida in his stead. Her name ought to be familiar to the readers of Hungarian Spectrum since she used to be head of the Hungarian Internal Revenue Service. She was suspected of corrupt practices and thus barred by the U.S. government from entering the United States.

Viktor Orbán takes the remaining few opposition electronic media outlets deadly seriously. As it stands, by now there are only two government-critical television channels left in the country. Both can be reached only by cable. Hungarian political observers are convinced that 90% of all media today is in government hands. Yet it seems that 90% is still not enough. Viktor Orbán seems set on silencing all voices critical of his regime.

This reminds me of an article by Ekaterina Shulman, a Russian political scientist, which I read in a Hungarian summary. She called Putin’s Russia a “hybrid regime,” 80 percent propaganda and 20 percent coercion. This description of the leading illiberal democracy also fits the regime Viktor Orbán has built in the last seven years. Even the arch-conservative Batthyány Circle of Professors, which in the past had found the state of the country to be picture perfect, recently called attention to the gap between “appearance and reality,” the former having the upper hand in today’s Hungary. And to sustain appearance and suppress reality a government needs a full pipeline of propaganda with a healthy dose of coercion.

January 16, 2017

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

A new year: roll back the clock

László Kövér, president of the Hungarian Parliament, has a unique ability. Even if he utters only a couple of sentences he manages to squeeze several outrageous comments into them. Can you imagine when he has a whole hour to share his complaints about the modern world, which is rotten to the core and will be even more awful with each passing day? Unfortunately, on January 1, he did just that on Echo TV, a far right channel. Kövér’s interlocutor was the like-thinking Zsolt Bayer, who sighed at frequent intervals whenever he thought that the weight of the issues was close to unbearable.

During this hour an awful lot of nonsense was uttered by these two men, but the overwhelming impression they left us with is that they are very unhappy because Hungary is no longer what it was when they were growing up. Kövér was born in 1959 and was 31 years old at the time of the regime change. Bayer was born in 1963 and so was 27 years old in 1990. Their formative years were spent in the consolidated Kádár regime. It was, they recall, a time of simple pleasures, close family ties, often two generations sharing the same apartment or house because of the lack of available housing. Interestingly, the ideal woman in this conversation was not the mother who most likely worked in some office or factory by then but the grandmother who looked after her grandchildren. This grandmother worked all day long without complaint. She wasn’t frustrated; she wasn’t bitter; she wasn’t depressed. She gladly sacrificed her life for her brood. Or at least this is how Zsolt Bayer envisaged the life of his grandmother. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this idyllic time could come back.

As for the future, it is bleak indeed. “Homo sapiens,” especially in the most developed parts of the world, seems to have lost its instinct for survival while in poorer regions, like Africa, more and more babies are being born. It looks as if “only the European white race is capable of committing suicide,” Kövér claimed. This downward spiral started with the introduction of old age benefits, which made children superfluous as providers in later life. This bemoaning of such intrinsic parts of the welfare state as old age benefits and perhaps even health insurance leads me to believe that these people feel utterly out of place in the 21st century. It is not a coincidence that the conversation about the past centered on Bayer’s grandmother who, judging from the time of her death, was born sometime around 1910. If it depended on these men, they would lead us back to the time of the Horthy regime, specifically into lower-middle class families in which the wife remained at home, looking after the children. These people would, if they could, simply get in a time machine and fly back a good hundred years, just as Bayer indicated, in one of his recent articles, he would gladly do.

In addition to this longing for an imagined past, they have a strong belief in Hungarian exceptionalism, which stems from the socialist era in which these two men grew up. Those fifty years, which Kövér simply calls Bolshevism, are the source of all of Hungary’s problems, which the last twenty some years of democracy couldn’t remedy. So, one would expect that he and Bayer would reject the whole period. But this is not the case. In their opinion, those years kept Hungarians as well as other countries of the Soviet bloc real Europeans. Old-fashioned Europeans who adhere to Christian, national values as opposed to the westerners who went astray: they became liberal, they are politically correct, they don’t believe in family values, they allow same-sex marriages, they don’t want to save Christianity from the Muslim migrants, and above all they are helping the United States and the multinational corporations destroy the nation states. Bayer goes so far as to claim that by now Hungary is the only truly European country. Kövér is a bit more generous: the Visegrád4 countries could be included in this small community of real Europeans.

Who is responsible for this state of affairs in Europe? The answer, in Kövér’s opinion, is simple: the multinational companies, whose interests dictate the destruction of families and nations. I would perhaps understand why multinational corporations would like to see fewer regulations that vary from state to state, but for the life of me I can’t fathom why they would want families to disappear. In any case, these multinationals want to weaken national governments because “they want to govern.” In this dirty work they receive help from “useful idiots and paid agents among the European political elite.” If you add to these two categories the “cowards,” they already hold a two-thirds majority in Brussels. These people are “the mercenaries of the United States; they are swindlers or at best unfit idiots who try to turn us out of office in the most dastardly, the most cunning, and the most boorish way.” Hungary is a besieged fortress attacked by the mercenaries of the United States. Or, less elegantly put by the boorish president of the Hungarian parliament, it is a country whose prime minister, like a pig on ice, must somehow stay on his feet while others try to trip him up.

If the Orbán regime shapes its domestic and foreign policies based on the muddled views expressed in this interview, they will be guaranteed failures. Time machines are figments of the imagination, and any attempt to turn back the wheel of time is a hopeless undertaking. The same failure is guaranteed if the Orbán regime bases its relations with the European Union on the mistaken notion that Western European political mercenaries in the service of the United States are intent on overthrowing the government in Budapest.

As for this relentless war against the multinationals, it will only result in decreasing foreign investment in the country. I know that this is no threat to Kövér, who has infinite trust in the ability of Hungarian entrepreneurs to replace the foreign companies currently in the country. But whether Kövér and Orbán like it or not, in today’s global economy they cannot be dispensed with, at least as long as Hungary is part of the European Union. To suggest otherwise is just idle talk.