Tag Archives: Gábor Széles

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

Zsófia Mihancsik: “Zero tolerance”–then let’s begin!

This is not the first time that I’ve provided a loose translation of Zsófia Mihancsik’s writing for English-speaking readers because I consider her to be one of the top analysts of Hungarian politics today. She is the editor-in-chief of Galamus, an excellent Internet forum. Galamus, besides offering outstanding op/ed pieces, also publishes Júlia Horváth’s translations of foreign articles in German, English and Russian while Mihancsik does the translations from French about the political situation in Hungary. For example, Professor Kim Scheppele’s articles on the constitution appeared in Hungarian on Galamus immediately after their publications. These translations fill the gap left wide open by MTI, the Hungarian press agency. Galamus also has volunteers from Sweden and Spain who offer their services to the “translation department.”

Mihancsik, in addition to the arduous task of running pretty much a one-woman show, often finds time to contribute articles of her own. The one that appeared today examines the Orbán government’s duplicity on the issue of anti-Semitism. It reveals to the foreign reader the kind of Hungarian reality that is normally closed to outsiders. Even those Hungarian speakers who pay attention to politics and the media may miss a sentence here and a sentence there that speak volumes about the real nature of Viktor Orbán’s Hungary.

* * *

On May 5 Prime Minister Viktor Orbán delivered his opening speech in front of the 14th General Assembly of the World Jewish Congress and stated that “today’s Hungarian Christian Democrat government felt that it was its moral duty … to declare a policy of zero tolerance against anti-Semitism.” On May 9 Péter Feldmájer, the president of MAZSIHISZ, said in an interview that Viktor Orbán’s “speech is satisfactory as a reference point but only time will tell what kinds of decisions will be made as a result.”

Between these two dates, on May 8, the new issue of the Demokrata, a weekly magazine, appeared and in it, on page 42, an op/ed piece by Ádám Pozsonyi entitled “Bacon” that included the following sentences:

I read in Magyar Hírlap that  a miserable fellow called András Gerő–I don’t know his original name–reviled the House of Árpád in some kind of libsi gutter-paper…. Should I get myself wound up about this miserable man who couldn’t adapt and wipes his shoes on the past of the people who gave him shelter? … It just occurred to me, breakfast, Mr. Gerő, don’t you want a little bacon? Please have some. I’ll give you some gladly. [Italics by Zs.M.]

This is what is called anti-Semitic talk. Even if the word “Jewish” is not used. After all, the Hungarian right and far right has a lot of practice in the genre. If Viktor Orbán has no ear for the coded anti-Semitic speech I will translate this passage for him. I don’t know his original name means that we know that this Jew had the temerity to Hungarianize his name. So, Pozsonyi makes sure that everybody understands that Béla Kun’s original name was Kohn, and Mátyás Rákosi’s Rosenfeld. So, they were Jewish.

The word libsi rhymes with bipsi, which means Jewish among the racists. It is the nickname for liberals, primarily used by those who consider everything that is not national and Christian–everything that is liberal/libsi, cosmopolitan, European, etc.–Jewish pollution. (The “libsi” gutter paper, by the way, is the prestigious weekly, Élet és Irodalom.)

This miserable man who couldn’t adapt and wipes his shoes on the past of the people who gave him shelter is a Nazi idea expressed by many. It is a variation of the “Galician vagrants” (galiciai jöttmentek) that was often heard in the last ten years. So, the Jews immigrate from God knows where while the Hungarians give them shelter but the the Jews, because of their character, turn against the accepting Hungarians. (Exactly the same way the left turns against the nation, which is another favorite Orbánite turn of phrase.) The Jews desecrate everything that is holy for the nation, mostly because of their always doubting minds.

Bacon naturally means pork, which an observant Jew cannot have. For the author of Demokrata it is totally irrelevant whether the person in question is Jewish or not, or if he is religious or not. The mention of bacon here is about the humiliation of someone outside of the nation who cannot eat the national food of Hungarians. He was an outsider and he remains an outsider.

So, I think that in the name of “zero tolerance” Orbán must have a little chit-chat with Demokrata‘s author.

Before anyone tells me that it is unfair to expect a reprimand of an anti-Semitic author by the prime minister, let me explain why I think that Viktor Orbán should rise to the occasion and do something. Why? Because we are not talking about an independent publication but a branch publication,  a party paper, a mouth-piece, a hired organ. We are talking about a paper that has a political boss in whose interest it functions and on whom it depends.

Here are three reasons that I believe Viktor Orbán is responsible for what appears in Demokrata. After the lost election in 2002 he did two things. He organized the civil cells and he urged his followers to support media close to Fidesz. He said at the time: “I ask every member [of these cells] to subscribe to Magyar Nemzet, Demokrata, and Heti Válasz. Those of you who are better off should subscribe in the name of a less wealthy friend or acquaintance.” And he gave a website where the supporters could fill out the order forms for the above publications.

From left to right: Gábor Széles, András Bencsik, and Zsolt Bayer / fnhir24.hu

From left to right: Gábor Széles, András Bencsik, and Zsolt Bayer / fnhir24.hu

In an article that appeared in Magyar Narancs (April 20, 2012) we could read that Fidesz-led municipalities gave 26 million forints in the previous five years to Demokrata.  Another article that also appeared in Magyar Narancs (April 23, 2012) concentrated on the incredible amount of state-ordered advertisements these right-wing papers receive. Given the centralized nature of Fidesz and Viktor Orbán’s individual leadership style, one can assume that the largess these papers receive depends on “performance.” If they “behave” the money comes; if not, the money supply dries up.

Another reason to assume that the relationship between Demokrata and Fidesz is close is the fact that the paper’s editor-in-chief, András Bencsik, is one of the chief organizers of the “Peace Marches” that were supposed to show the world the incredible support Viktor Orbán has. But in addition to Bencsik, one could find among the organizers Ádám Pozsonyi, the author of the article on “Bacon”; István Stefka, editor-in-chief of Magyar Hírlap; Zsolt Bayer, senior editor of Magyar Hírlap; and Gábor Széles, Magyar Hírlap‘s owner

So, given the cozy relationship between Viktor Orbán and the extremist journalists serving him, it would be the easiest thing for Orbán if he were really serious about this new-fangled “zero tolerance” to say: “Boys, if once more you make anti-Semitic propaganda in your paper or on your television station there will be no more financial assistance. Moreover, you will not receive 3.2 billion forints for organizing peace marches. You will not receive any ads from state companies, and the municipalities will be told to stop payment. In a word, you will starve to death.”*

Moreover, I go further. That message shouldn’t just be whispered into the ears of the journalists at these newspapers but should be announced loud and clear to the Hungarian public.Everybody should understand what will happen to him if  he goes against “our Hungarian Christian Democratic politics.”

When that actually happens Ronald S. Lauder, the president of the World Jewish Congress, can make an apology with good reason. If not, then only the shame remains–for us.

*Demokrata sold only 12,000 copies in November 2011.