Tag Archives: government media

U.S. State Department comes to the aid of the beleaguered regional press in Hungary

On November 9 a highly unusual announcement appeared on the website of the U.S. State Department. The Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) announced a “funding opportunity” for the support of “objective media in Hungary.” DRL supports “those persons who long to live in freedom and under democratic governments that protect universally accepted human rights.” DRL is normally not involved with European countries, especially those that are members of the European Union and are supposedly developed countries with the necessary set of democratic institutions.

DRL’s goal in this case is to support media outlets operating outside the capital of Hungary “to produce fact-based reporting and increase their audience and economic sustainability…. The program should improve the quality of local traditional and online media and increase the public’s access to reliable and unbiased information. Projects should aim to have impact that leads to democratic reforms.”

This was such stunning news that even the Hungarian ministry of foreign affairs and trade was unable to respond. The grant of 200 million forints or $700,000 means that the United States no longer considers Hungary a democratic country where the free flow of information can be taken for granted. Earlier, when U.S. Chargé d’Affaires David J. Kostelancik delivered a tough speech at the headquarters of the National Association of Hungarian Journalists, both Tamás Menczer, foreign ministry spokesman, and Levente Magyar, its undersecretary, were outraged and complained about interference in Hungary’s domestic affairs. But when 444.hu, the internet news site that discovered the item on the website of the State Department, asked the foreign ministry for its reaction, it got the following brief answer: “Unusual step; we are studying its aim and goal; for the time being we have no comment.”

The fact that the grant specifically targets the countryside means that the Americans are well informed on the state of the Hungarian media. While the print editions of the two independent countrywide daily newspapers, Népszava and Magyar Nemzet, reach very few people, the regional local papers are quite popular. People want to know what’s happening in their towns. But all 19 regional papers were gobbled up recently by Lőrinc Mészáros and Andy Vajna, the alter-egos of Viktor Orbán. The sections of these local papers that deal with national and foreign news are written centrally and distributed to all 19 local papers. State television, which can be seen without a cable hookup, broadcasts unadulterated propaganda. TV2, the other television station that can be seen everywhere in the country, was acquired lately by Andy Vajna. Thus, people living in the countryside have access only to a one-sided and highly distorted view of reality. The 200 million forints, of course, will not alter that situation substantially, but it is a warning to the Orbán government that it went far too far in creating practically a one-party state with an omnipresent propaganda machine.

A good example of the marketplace of free ideas. The front page of a few of the 19 regional papers

Népszava called attention in its front-page article to the fact that “it is unparalleled in diplomatic practice for the United States to support independent media in a European country which is considered to be developed.” It also reminded the readers that as early as 2012 Mark Palmer, former ambassador to Hungary, Charles Gati, professor of political science, and Miklós Haraszti, former OSCE representative on freedom of the media, wrote an article in The Washington Post in which they called attention to the problem and suggested the revival of Radio Free Europe’s Hungarian language radio station.

The so-called diplomats of Viktor Orbán’s ministry of foreign affairs might be too stunned to say anything, but at least two pro-government papers have an opinion on the matter. According to Magyar Idők, by giving this fairly modest grant “the United States is building a client media in the countryside.” The paper is certain that not just one group of journalists will be the beneficiaries. The United States will give grants to “minimally four or five organizations,” which might cost the U.S. about 2 million dollars. The paper sarcastically adds that for the United States this amount of money is insignificant, just as it wouldn’t be big money for China or Russia if they wanted to give money to the United States or Germany “for the support of ‘more’ objective information, leading to democratic reforms. But what would Donald Trump or Angela Merkel say to that?”

Mária Schmidt’s Figyelő, in an article titled “The temporary American chargé is planning to create an anti-media,” goes into a complicated explanation for the reasons for this grant. The real aim is “not raising the quality of Hungarian journalism;  the real goal is a change of government.” The article admits that the money will be distributed only after the national election, but what the Americans want to achieve with this move is to influence the results of the 2019 municipal elections. They gave up on the “democrats of the capital,” whom they are leaving to George Soros’s generosity, and are concentrating instead on the countryside, which is bright orange (i.e., solidly Fidesz) now. The article is full of complaints about “these temporary chargés” who are still hanging around. “Who is this Kostelancik?” He was foreign policy adviser to the Helsinki Commission, and “we are only too familiar with the Helsinki Commission.” He worked in Moscow as an adviser to the ambassador, and “we know from spy movies that these are always disagreeable fellows.” But when the ambassador appointed by Donald Trump comes, “he will get rid of Mr. Kostelancik.”

As is evident from the Figyelő article, Hungarian right-wing journalists, and to some extent even the politicians, hope that the lack of improvement in U.S.-Hungarian relations is due to the fact that the old-timers are still hanging around. Donald Trump didn’t have time yet to get rid of them. But, as Népszava rightly points out, giving this grant to the independent media of a so-called democratic country is no trifling matter. It may even have been cleared by the White House.

The Hungarian right-wing media has a friend in the United States, Daniel McAdams, executive director of the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity, who wrote an article after the announcement of the grant titled “Manipulation: The US State Department’s New Program to Take on Hungarian Media.” Only recently the U.S. Justice Department demanded that the Russian-backed RT America network register as a foreign propaganda entity or face arrest. And now DRL is launching a program to “massively interfere in NATO-partner Hungary’s internal media.” Hungary is “a full democracy where the will of the people is regularly expressed at the ballot box and there the media competes freely in the marketplace of ideas.” This intervention must feel “like a stab in the back to Orbán and his government” because while “Brussels saw Trump as a gauche loudmouth, Orbán openly admired the soon-to-be-president’s position on immigration.” In this article McAdams comes to the same conclusion as the journalist of Figyelő when he asks: “What would you do if China sent in a few million dollars to prop up US publications who agreed to push the Beijing line?” He warns: “Hands off Hungary!”

I think one should explain to Daniel McAdams that he is comparing apples to oranges. Russia Today is a Russian state-financed television network broadcasting Russian propaganda all over the world. DRL’s modest grant is designed to open a small door to those who are exposed exclusively to government propaganda. The amount of money the Orbán government spends on “communication” is staggering, and talking about competition “in the marketplace of free ideas” is a brazen lie when 19 regional papers are effectively in the hands of one man, the prime minister of the country.

November 11, 2017

Hungarian politicians and Migration Aid’s “migrant resorts”

By now, I’m sure, many readers of Hungarian Spectrum who regularly follow the English- or Hungarian-language news from Hungary have heard the story of those refugee families who were offered the opportunity to spend a few days in a village at the edge of Kis-Balaton, a huge wetland habitat. As is clear from the name, the place is only a few kilometers from Lake Balaton. An Austrian benefactor offered three cabins to Migration Aid International, an Open Society Foundation-supported organization that is helping both the refugees who are still being kept in transit zones along the Serbian-Hungarian border and those who have been released and have been granted asylum and are currently under the “protection” (oltalom) of the Hungarian state. In the rest of this post you will see what this “protection” means in the current harsh reality of the Orbán regime.

Cutting to the chase: a Fidesz member of parliament, three mayors in the vicinity of those three cabins, and some of the less than charitable and enlightened inhabitants of the three towns swore that no refugee can have a vacation near them. They don’t care about these people’s legal status. They don’t want them nearby. In fact, as one of the mayors said, they don’t want them anywhere in Hungary.

Source: abcug.hu / Photo: András Hajdú

Many articles have been written on the subject in Hungarian, and yesterday The Budapest Beacon published a detailed summary of what happened in Keszthely, Hévíz, and Zalavár, three towns located in one of the busiest tourist areas of Hungary. Since the disgraceful story can be read elsewhere, I will approach the topic from a different angle. I wanted to discover its genesis.

It looks as if the journalists of Magyar Idők regularly check Migration Aid’s Facebook page. There they learned, most likely on August 2, that the organization’s activists were planning to spend the weekend getting the three cabins ready to receive the first three families. The journalist who got the job of inciting public opinion against Migration Aid and its plans was Áron Nagy, who subsequently wrote five articles on the unacceptability of allowing “migrants” to vacation anywhere near Lake Balaton.

The very first article was, most likely purposely, misleading. According to Nagy, “Migration Aid International in the outskirts of [Keszthely] is planning to give temporary accommodations to asylum seekers let out of the transit zones.” Migration Aid’s Facebook page was very specific about the status of the refugees. They were not asylum seekers. They already received asylum in Hungary. Migration Aid was equally clear about using the cabins for the purpose of providing short vacations for people in desperate need of some normalcy. The total news value of this article was the sentence I just quoted. The rest of the 450-word article was filler that besmirched the reputation of Migration Aid and made sure everybody knows it is connected to George Soros’s foundation.

The news spread quickly and naturally reached the local internet news site, Zalai Hírlap Online (zaol.hu), which got in touch with András Siewert, the operative coordinator of Migration Aid. Zaol.hu’s handling of the story was a great deal more professional than Magyar Idők‘sThey went to Migration Aid’s Facebook page and accurately quoted the description of the organizations’ plans for the cabins. Siewert explained that these people want to stay in Hungary and the organization is trying to acquaint them with Hungary’s history and culture. Zaol.hu asked whether Migration Aid was concerned about any negative local reaction, to which Siewert’s answer was that since the neighbors are mostly Austrians and Germans they don’t anticipate any trouble. What a sad commentary on the state of mind of Hungarians after two years of hate mongering.

By that time it became known that the three cabins are situated in the outskirts of Zalavár, a village of 1,000 inhabitants. Ildikó Horváth, the mayor of the village, learned about the refugees from Magyar Idők but found out only from zaol.hu that the three cabins are situated in Zalavár. Her reaction was swift: “As soon as this information reached me I took the necessary steps,” which “will serve the interests of the villagers.” What the mayor of Keszthely, a city 13 km. away, had to do with three cabins in Zalavár is hard to fathom. But it was clear from the zaol.hu article that by that time the mayors of the whole region had been in touch with one another, and they swore that they would use “all legal means” to prevent the families from vacationing anywhere nearby. Jenő Manninger, the Fidesz member of parliament representing the district, admitted that the visit of these families doesn’t mean permanent settlement, but this scheme of Migration Aid is dangerous nonetheless because it is part of the “Soros plan.” He added that “the authorities are already investigating the legal possibilities of preventing the organization of such camping holidays.”

In the next few days Magyar Idők did its very best to further incite public opinion against the migrants and their “vacationing.” Áron Nagy got in touch with Ferenc Ruzsics, the mayor of Keszthely, who said that these people have no place anywhere in the country. He accused Migration Aid of being underhanded, although we know that the organization announced its plans on Facebook. Magyar Idők also got in touch with Manninger, who announced that “in no way can the migrants settle, even if at the moment their camping is legally possible.” Quite a claim by a legislator who ought to know that these people have the legal right to settle wherever their hearts desire in the territory of Hungary.

Two days later Áron Nagy was at it again. In his article dated August 5 he complained that Migration Aid persists on going through with the original plan despite the outcry of the locals. In order to fill space, he went on and on about the exact location of the three cabins and tried to find contradictions in different journalistic accounts of the events. The whole article was a pitiful attempt at blackening the name of Migration Aid.

On the same day Áron Nagy also published an opinion piece titled “Migránssimogató” (Migrant Stroking), in which he proudly took credit for “exposing” Migration Aid. As a result of his first article, “those Hungarians who are considered by Brussels to be retarded folks disposed to fascist ideas cried out from Zalavár to Keszthely: not one of them here.”

And if that weren’t enough, Áron Nagy with a colleague, Kriszta Gidró, wrote another article on August 7 in which the duo repeated all their objections to Migration Aid as well as to “migrant resorts” anywhere in Hungary. They were especially infuriated by András Siewert’s insistence that migrants can live wherever they want and that in the future Migration Aid will continue to organize vacations for those who have already been granted asylum. Siewert also said that they have no obligation to ask permission to organize such outings. The journalists found it upsetting that “Migration Aid will continue to pursue its refugee advocacy actions.”

This story, I believe, is a good example of the way the Hungarian population is being indoctrinated, with the assistance of the government media in the service of Viktor Orbán’s policies. It is a shameful story of manipulation and duplicity.

August 9, 2017