Tag Archives: foreign newspapers

Fact checking the foreign press in Hungary

A Hungarian friend called my attention to a relatively new Internet site, factcheck.hu, surely inspired by the American factcheck. org. But what a difference. While factcheck.org has headlines like “Obama overpromises premiums” or “Obama care by the numbers,” factcheck.hu targets the foreign press: “Baseless allegations by the Czech daily, SME,” “The article in Die Presse is not supported by facts,” Huffington Post is wrong when it claims that  “Fidesz rehabilitates the Horthy regime,” “The article of The Guardian is based on misinformation.”

The publisher of this vehemently pro-government site is the Nézőpont Intézet. I think I wrote about this think tank before, but it is worth repeating that nobody takes Nézőpont seriously. To say that Nézőpont (which by the way means “viewpont” in Hungarian) has a pro-Fidesz slant is a major understatement. Their monthly polls on the population’s political attitudes deviate so radically from the other four or five, including the pro-Fidesz Századvég, that they are derided by serious followers of Hungarian politics.

Naturally, the Orbán government is quite satisfied with the work of Ágoston Sámuel Mráz, the CEO of the Institute, and government orders have been pouring into Mráz’s  companies. Yes, plural because Nézőpont established a couple of separate companies, one of which is called Médianéző (Media Observer). Médianéző received a government contract for three years (from January 2012 to December 31, 2014) to provide the government with digests of domestic and foreign newspapers. The government will pay 30.3 million forints a month for these services–more than a billion forints in three years.

Ágoston Sámuel Mráz established another company called Kutatóközpont Kft. (Research Center), which received a contract to do market research for the state-owned Szerencsejáték Zrt. (Gambling/Lottery). In 2011 and in 2012 the state lottery paid out more than about 340 million forints for services rendered. Details on Mráz’s dealings with the government and the state-owned lottery can be read in 168 Óra and HVG.

Personally, I would question the wisdom of relying on the services of a company whose owner and employees are so committed to one side of the political spectrum. Will the morning summaries of the news items that reach all important government officials accurately reflect the contents of the original? Will the selection be impartial? Perhaps this doesn’t really matter because government officials pay no attention to Nézőpont’s news summaries anyway. The contract is most likely payment for the lopsided polls Nézőpont puts out month after month.

Even though these polls bear no resemblance to reality, every Hungarian newspaper reports on what Nézőpont has to say, so they serve some propagandistic purpose. Only yesterday “Fabius,” a well known blogger, recalled the time when all other polls reported that Fidesz had lost 1.5 million voters between April 2010 and January 2012 whereas Nézőpont claimed that  Fidesz had actually lost only 200,000 voters while the opposition parties lost 450,000!

Meme (Fideszfigyelő). On the left János Lázár, Fidesz politician and on the left two independent political scientists. Far right is Ágoston Sámuel Mráz. The audience came from one of the civic cells

Meme (Fideszfigyelő). On the left János Lázár, Fidesz politician, and on the right two “independent” political scientists of Nézőpont, including Ágoston Sámuel Mráz on the far right. The audience is made up of members of a civic cell.

But let’s go back to Mráz’s latest venture, factcheck.hu. On the webpage we are told that since Nézőpont has the job of serving as media providers for the government, they decided to start a site where they would point out to Hungarian speakers all the lies and distortions of the foreign press. This venture began in June. If the Hungarian government supports their efforts I must say they don’t get much for their money. In June I found eight instances where corrections were “needed” and in July again eight short articles appeared. So far in August there is a huge void, although I could certainly come up with several important English, French, and German opinion pieces and articles about Hungary during that period.

One article they highlight is John Feffer’s piece in The Huffington Post entitled “Hungary: The Cancer in the Middle of Europe?” Since I read the article when it came out in early June 2013, I was curious what Mráz and his fellow analysts found objectionable in it. The piece is not overly long, about the length of one of the posts on Hungarian Spectrum. Interestingly enough, they found only two objectionable sentences “[Fidesz] has begun rehabilitating the dictatorial regime of Admiral Horthy (whose signed picture Adolf Hitler kept on his desk as inspiration). The social agenda of Fidesz veers rightward as well, with its attempt to declare homelessness illegal.”

Here I will deal with only with the first sentence about the Horthy regime’s rehabilitation. So, let’s see how the sharp minds at Nézőpont tackle that horrible attack on the Orbán government. Here is the lead sentence: “The first assertion of the article is misleading because Fidesz never showed any manifestation of extremist tendencies.” Did Feffer say anything about Fidesz’s extremism? Did he even say that Horthy’s regime was extremist and therefore its rehabilitation leads to extremism? No, nothing of the sort. He simply said that the Orbán government began the rehabilitation of the dictatorial regime of Miklós Horthy. I would say that this assertion is correct. First, the rehabilitation efforts are obvious; just think of all the street name changes. And second, Hungary between the two world wars was no democracy; the electoral law that included open voting in the countryside ensured that “the government party” always won the elections. The kind of dictatorial setup Viktor Orbán himself advocated in his September 2009 speech in Kötcse about a “central power,” a regime without any serious opposition, as his ideal.

So, once the “political analysts”of Nézőpont started off on the wrong foot there was no way for them to prove that Feffer was mistaken. Instead, they talked about the Memorial Day for the Victims of the Holocaust that the first Orbán government introduced. They went on about all the wonderful pieces of legislation that ensure the safety of minorities. And naturally, Nézőpont mentioned the speech Viktor Orbán delivered at the World Jewish Congress in Budapest (which the readers of this blog know was not received with enthusiasm because it contained only generalities and didn’t outline any practical steps the government would take to stem the tide of growing antisemitism in the country). What does all this have to do with Feffer’s assertion about the rehabilitation of the Horthy regime? Clearly, nothing.

This was just one sentence that appeared in one publication. Can you imagine if one actually cataloged all the “refutations” Mráz and his friends would have to come up with? But perhaps it wouldn’t be so difficult after all, because they seem to have pat answers that are copied from refutation to refutation. Here is, for example, the answer to an opinion piece in the French Libération which looks at the popularity of Le Front national. The author, Bernard Guetta, calls “the [French] situation just as grave as in Hungary” (la situation est tout aussi grave qu’en Hongrie).  What is Mráz’s answer? Practically the same as to Feffer’s article in the Huffington Post. “The Hungarian government never showed any extremist tendencies. On the contrary, it always actively stood up against extremism,” and here they repeat practically word for word what they wrote in “analyzing” the Feffer article. There was the World Jewish Congress, the Memorial Day for the Victims of the Holocaust, etc.

I should mention that Ágoston Sámuel Mráz was Tibor Navracsics’s political science student. It was Navracsics who called attention to this talented young man. What does this say about Tibor Navracsics or about Hungarian political scientists? At any event, I’m glad that the Orbán government and Fidesz are satisfied with Mráz’s job. And I’m sure Mráz is satisfied with his employers: they don’t demand much and they pay well.