Tag Archives: right-wing media

The U.S. presidential election in the pro-government Hungarian media

After two weeks of national conventions, the American presidential race remains headline news in Hungary. It really took center stage after Prime Minister Viktor Orbán announced his support for the Republican candidate, Donald Trump. His announcement prompted the pro-government media to launch a propaganda campaign against Hillary Clinton and in favor of Trump. Today I will try to capture the general tone of the coverage by the Hungarian right-wing press.

As Dániel Deák, an analyst with the Nezőpont Intézet, correctly pointed out in Magyar Hírlap, “the natural political ally of the Hungarian right-wing government is the American Republican Party.” I would add that this is especially the case now that the Republicans have a candidate who is a populist demagogue, cut out of pretty much the same cloth as Viktor Orbán. The right-wing political commentator doesn’t understand why the liberals are surprised about Orbán’s announcement of his support for Trump. After all, the opposition parties as well as commentators critical of the Orbán government have been telling their readers that Hillary Clinton’s nomination “would be a tragedy for the Orbán government.”

The pro-government media is full of warmed-up stories about the injustices Orbán’s Hungary suffered at the hands of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, going all the way back to June 24, 2010 when she received Hungary’s new foreign minister, János Martonyi. “On her overly made-up face one could see immense conceit while all her words reflected the belief that she was representing the best of all possible worlds,” László Szőcs writes. In those days he was Népszabadság’s correspondent in Washington, but now he works for Magyar Idők. The same Szőcs in a later article recalled that in 2008 Barack Obama accused Clinton of a lack of integrity, calling her a person who would say anything in order to achieve her ultimate goal of becoming president of the United States. In addition, this aggressive woman dared to put political pressure on the Orbán government because of Hungary’s new constitution and law on the churches. And, if that wasn’t enough, she summarized her demands in twelve points at the end of 2011, charging that the Orbán government wasn’t democratic enough.

Hillary Clinton at the National Democratic Convention

Hillary Clinton at the Democratic Convention

She was a total flop as secretary of state. “Her failures and her aggressive policies of ‘democracy export’ are in large part responsible for the distressing state in the countries of the Middle East and in many North African countries,” Dániel Deák charges.

In Magyar Hírlap Ottó Nagy (I don’t know who he is) practically accuses Hillary Clinton of “keeping secrets from her own country.” Or perhaps she had something even worse in mind, like stealing. “Let’s not forget about the lucrative Clinton Foundation. Did she perhaps fill her own pockets? After all, in her circles where George Soros shows up here and there, people tacitly understand one another.” Hillary Clinton’s sin, according to Nagy, has been playing “the feminist card and gender theory, following the thinking of the Democratic party.” If she succeeds Barack Obama as president then, “following the very American and very Democratic line, given the embrace of LGBTQ people, who knows who the next president will be.”

The Hungarian right, in addition to condemning Clinton’s policy of exporting democracy, also accuses her of undue pressure on the Orbán government on the issue of migration, which is clearly not the case. After all, she stepped down as Secretary of State in 2013. Deák, for example, brings up Coleen Bell’s speech at Corvinus University on October 29, 2015. But the fact is that Coleen Bell countless times declared that Hungary has the right to defend her borders and build the fence to keep refugees and migrants out, although she criticized the Hungarian government’s propaganda campaign. Let me quote what Bell had to say on this point. “Every sovereign nation has the right to protect its borders,” but, she added, “every nation, as a part of the international community, also has a fundamental obligation to help refugee populations seeking safety.” She said that words of intolerance and the xenophobic labeling of refugees as invaders and antagonists “have no role in our efforts to find a solution.”

From the point of view of the Hungarian right, the American pro-immigration policy will only intensify under the presidency of Hillary Clinton. Therefore, hoping for Trump’s victory is a normal reaction. Trump’s policies are a perfect fit with those of the Orbán administration. They are “clear and in line with Hungary’s national interest.”

Donald Trump at the Republican Convention

Donald Trump at the Republican Convention

Viktor Orbán singled out only three of Trump’s favorite themes in showing solidarity with him: he is against immigration, he believes that national security forces must be strengthened, and he contends that the West must end its export of democracy. To Orbán, these three policy positions are also of vital importance to Hungary. Or, to be more precise, to his Christian, national, illiberal Hungary.

Viktor Orbán may well be convinced that his own policies are in the nation’s interest, although many consider them to be a detriment to the country and its people. Is his far too close relationship with Vladimir Putin in the national interest? I doubt it. Is his undermining of the fragile structure of the European Union in Hungary’s interest? No. Is the systemic corruption he introduced that results in his and his friends’ enrichment good for Hungary? Is it in the interest of ordinary Hungarians? Definitely not.

“National interest” is one of those concepts that every scoundrel who manages to get into high office can appeal to. And usually national interest is equated with or reduced to the interest of that politician. It is not in the interest of Viktor Orbán personally to have Hillary Clinton as the next president of the United States, but it’s hard to see how her presidency would be in any way detrimental to Hungary. And I fear that a Trump presidency, which Viktor Orbán welcomes, might be perilous not only for Hungary but for the whole western world.

July 30, 2016

 

Viktor Orbán explains what went wrong

If I hadn’t already known that Viktor Orbán is in serious political trouble, I would certainly have discovered it last night while watching an interview he gave to Zsolt Bayer, one of the founders of Fidesz and a foul-mouthed racist who thinks he is a journalist. The interview was aired on Echo TV, a far-right television station catering to Jobbik supporters and to those Fidesz voters whose political views are practically indistinguishable from the ideology and racism of Jobbik.

After his falling out with Lajos Simicska, a former friend and financial wizard of Fidesz, Orbán no longer wants to use HírTV, Lánchíd Rádió, or Magyar Nemzet, all Simicska businesses. László Kövér indicated that the party considers these media outlets to be mouthpieces of the opposition. Fidesz politicians have been advised to keep away from them. In the meantime the government, behind the scenes, is creating a new “independent” media empire.

Why did Orbán use the far-right Echo TV instead of the new state television’s news channel, M1? Although M1 is a flop, it still has a wider audience than Echo TV. The only explanation I can think of is that Fidesz is sending a message to Jobbik supporters, who most likely prefer Echo TV above all others, that Fidesz is no less radical than Jobbik is.

It was a long interview, a little over 45 minutes, and a lot of topics were covered, but what I personally found most interesting was the discussion about “the confusion” in the party and the government. I assume Bayer was addressing the party’s lack of direction and the resultant slide in its popularity. He introduced an idea he had written about earlier, that Fidesz has lost its “soul.” Naturally, Viktor Orbán doesn’t believe that there is any intrinsic problem with his leadership. The “confusion” is not in Fidesz or in the government but in the heads of his right-wing supporters. The reason for this confusion is the government’s loss of the media that in the past explained the policies of his administration and directed public opinion in the proper way.

So, if I understand it correctly, Orbán more or less admits here that without a Fidesz-created servile media he and other Fidesz politicians would be nowhere today. They needed Magyar Nemzet, Heti Válasz, and HírTV, which were financed by Fidesz operatives such as Lajos Simicska. Try to imagine a similar situation in a truly democratic country where the president’s or the prime minister’s success depends on the existence of a secretly financed media empire. And once, for one reason or other, something goes wrong and the owner of that media conglomerate withdraws support, the whole government and the government party are suddenly heading toward oblivion. Because this is what seems to have been going on in Hungary for more than a decade. At least since 2002.

Perhaps I should add here that a large chunk of that money came straight from Brussels. Even during the socialist-liberal period Lajos Simicska’s companies received plenty of government projects. There is also a strong possibility that Simicska was not the only Hungarian CEO who secretly worked for Fidesz. Of course, after 2010 the government coffers were opened wide to Fidesz-supporting entrepreneurs who surely paid the party back for favors received.

At the time of the Simicska-Orbán confrontation the majority of commentators were convinced that Lajos Simicska would come out the loser. After all, the power and purse strings of the state are in Viktor Orbán’s hands. He is the one who can destroy Simicska’s business ventures. In the past, it was Viktor Orbán who made sure that huge government projects landed at Simicska’s concerns, and now those orders will go elsewhere. Of course, this may be true in the short term, but what if the “confusion” in the heads of the Hungarian people remains because there are no longer industrious scribblers who try to point their minds in the “right direction”?

Orbán obviously realizes how important it is to create another servile Fidesz media, and I’m sure they are furiously working on it. Orbán specifically mentioned Gábor Liszkay’s purchase of Napi Gazdaság as a first step toward rebuilding a government-servile media conglomerate, but it will take time, if it’s even possible, to make a second Magyar Nemzet out of what used to be a financial paper. And second, there is a good possibility that by now a lot of Fidesz supporters can no longer be so easily swayed. It is enough to read the comments in Magyar Hírlap following the article that describes the interview. Keep in mind that this is a far-right paper. Here’s a tiny sample. “Something was broken. This is not the same Fidesz any more. There is too much senseless arbitrariness. Too much János Lázár.” This is not a left-wing troll writing here. I’m sure that he used to be a true believer. Another reader realizes that “if there is no media on the right, just on the left, then there will be big trouble. By now all media are anti-Orbán and anti-Fidesz.” Of course, there are still many who are glad that Viktor Orbán explained so clearly what the real trouble is, but another reader suggests that perhaps the prime minister should have mentioned some of the mistakes he and his government made. It will be difficult for the government to pick up where they left off.

Another topic I found fascinating was Viktor Orbán’s evaluation of his tenure as prime minister between 2010 and 2015. There seems to be a new twist in his interpretation of his own role as well as the accomplishments of his government. Until now we have been told that in April 2010 a revolution occurred, a revolution in the voting booths. Now, however, he sees the whole four years following the election of 2010 as a revolution, which he considers a fantastic accomplishment. After all, there have not been too many “victorious” revolutions in Hungarian history. Now the gates to a “polgári Magyarország” (a prosperous Hungary with a well-off middle class) are open. “We just have to enter them.” But one must be vigilant because “the opposition wants [to stage] a counterrevolution,” and therefore they are doing everything in their power to prevent the establishment of that long-sought “polgári Magyarország.” What followed was even more bizarre than his description of the opposition as a bunch of counterrevolutionaries. “We have been victorious and that the opposition is attacking us is an excellent sign. They would like to take our place because now it is good for us and bad for them.” A true democrat is speaking here.

Viktor Orbán no longer needs the oligarchs’ right-wing media

It was on January 9 that I wrote a post about the reorganization of the state media. I used the word “state” instead of “public” because by now Hungarian public television and radio are no more than government propaganda tools. I also wrote about Viktor Orbán’s vindictiveness, which is manifesting itself in plans for a state TV channel devoted exclusively to news. With this move Orbán is creating an alternative, backed by the state budget, to Lajos Simicska’s HírTV, which until recently faithfully served his and Fidesz’s policies. The two men had differences, however, and in Simicska’s media empire, of which HírTV is only one outlet, a few mildly critical programs and articles have appeared of late. For Orbán such disloyalty cannot go unpunished. Hence the new state news channel.

By an uncanny coincidence, on the very day I posted my article a “secret” meeting took place in the parliament building. Not until a week later, on January 15, did the public learn that Viktor Orbán had called together the editors-in-chief of right-wing, pro-government papers “to discuss and evaluate the work of the last year with them.” That is, to talk about how well the “media lackeys,” as one blogger called them, did their jobs last year. It wasn’t that we were unaware of the close cooperation between the government and the right-wing media, but it was still something of a shock to discover that this meeting was actually an annual affair. Apparently, every January the “lackeys” and the prime minister get together to discuss the successes or failures of the these media outlets’ work in the past year.

So, there was nothing unusual about the gathering itself, but what apparently transpired during the two-hour meeting was something else. Although not all those present told the same story, it seems that Orbán informed the editors-in-chief that from here on he will rely exclusively on state television and radio for government propaganda and therefore the generous subsidies to right-wing media outlets in private hands will be curtailed or may even cease. The subsidies to these government papers and television stations came in the form of advertisements from state companies. Just in the first seven months of last year Magyar Nemzet had ad revenues of 191 million forints from the Hungarian National Bank, 91 million from MVM, and 146 million from the state lottery Szerencsejáték Rt. If state advertisements stop, the right-wing media will be in the same boat as the socialist-liberal papers and the single left-leaning radio station (Klubrádió). This would impose a heavy financial burden on the owners, for example on Lajos Simicska.

ujsag

Orbán apparently made it clear that he was not satisfied with their work last year. There was still too much criticism of the government, which makes the electorate uncertain about the wisdom of the government’s decisions. According to the very detailed description of the meeting by Népszabadságthe prime minister was of the opinion that these newspapers and HírTV can manage on their own by now. Talking specifically about Magyar Nemzet and HírTV, both belonging to the media empire of Lajos Simicska, Orbán noted that being financially independent will free them from the quandary of identity. They can be both right-wing and government-critical in good conscience.

According to some of those present, the message did not come as a complete surprise. Gábor Borókai of Heti Válasz and spokesman of the first Orbán government (1998-2002) told Népszabadság that any casual reader of the right-wing media can see that since last fall “there have been very few ads from state companies and absolutely nothing on the current campaign of the prime minister’s office.” What surprised the editors, however, was how openly Orbán talked about the government’s goals with respect to the media. He did not hide his intention to use the “public media” for government propaganda. I guess he doesn’t care that soon enough Hungary’s allies, the European Union and the United States, will hear his candid words about the connection between the government and the public media reaffirmed by some of the participants who were present at the meeting. Of course, it is possible that even this revelation will not move the European Union to act, although one of the most controversial pieces of legislation of the Orbán government was the law on the media, eventually toned down on EU insistence.

Is Orbán’s move wise? Does it make sense to alienate the right-wing media and to bet the farm on an untried news channel of state TV, which has only 10% of total viewership? I see no compelling rationale for it, even from Orbán’s point of view. Mind you, he has done so many crazy things lately that perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that he decided to take on the until now loyal press. For a government there can never be enough good press, and turning on journalists can be lethal. Viktor Orbán knows this better than most. At the end of his first term at the beginning of 2002 he bemoaned the fact that during his four years in office he had not paid enough attention to building up a friendly media. So, what then? Is he that sure of himself? That is also hard to believe given the incredible loss of popular support for his party and for himself.

There can be only one explanation for this seemingly crazy move: he really thinks that the journalists in question are totally devoted to the right-wing ideology of Fidesz and that even without extra subsidies they will not turn against him and his government. Although I don’t think that all journalists working for the right-wing media outlets are so devoted, there is a hardcore of true believers. It is unlikely that they would start writing critical articles about the government. RTL Klub was different. It was neither a right-wing nor a left-wing television station. Its editors just decided to leave out a lot of news that showed the government in a bad light. They did not want to irritate Viktor Orbán. From this neutral position it was easy to shift the newscasts to include items that previously would have been omitted.

Even if the people working for, let’s say, Magyar Nemzet abandoned their right-wing ideology, the editor and owner of a paper must also think of the readership that is accustomed to and demands a certain political stance. These papers cannot suddenly change their content although, according to ATV, Lajos Simicska, who owns HírTV, Magyar Nemzet, and Lánchíd Rádió, wants a shift in political orientation to appeal to the conservative center. The question is whether there is such a thing in Hungary. I don’t believe there is at the moment, unless as a result of Viktor Orbán’s move to the far right a more traditional center will emerge in the coming months.

All in all, Orbán might be correct in not worrying too much about the pro-government orientation of these newspapers in the future. If that turns out to be the case, the new state news channel will be just an added bonus for those folks who don’t have cable and who from force of habit watch nothing but state television. After all, this is what they did in the good old days when there was but a single TV channel. It satisfied them then and it satisfies them now.

Fidesz accuses Mesterházy of wanting to execute Fidesz oligarchs

I have been planning to give a detailed description of the huge MSZP gathering on January 25, which was the unofficial beginning of the campaign. I’m working on a translation of an abbreviated version of Attila Mesterházy’s speech that was well received, even by those who are not really MSZP fans. The gathering was very professionally orchestrated and can be considered a success. But then came the story of the “rope.” More than twenty-four hours after Mesterházy’s speech, Magyar Nemzet discovered that someone in the crowd of 13,000 shouted “rope” as an appropriate fate for Lőrinc Mészáros, mayor of Felcsút and director of the Puskás Academy, who in three short years became the 88th richest person in Hungary. The modest artisan whose job it was to bring gas lines to the houses of the people in Felcsút is now the wealthy owner of a construction business and large tracts of land.

Mesterházy jokingly said that Mészáros’s feat is unparalleled and he should teach college students how to do it. Then, according to Mesterházy, someone in the crowd shouted that instead of a lectern Mészáros deserves jail. To which Mesterházy answered in agreement.

Lőrincz Mészáros. Achievements: 5 billion forint profit in 2012, 1,200 hectares of land, billions in public procurements -- Lőrinc Mészáros is doing better

Lőrincz Mészáros. Achievements: 5 billion forint profit in 2012, 1,200 hectares of land, billions in public procurements — Lőrinc Mészáros is doing better

But this is not what the reporter for HírTV heard. He heard “rope” although other reporters, for example those from Index and Origo, claimed that all the journalists were too far away to hear properly. They heard someone shouting something but they couldn’t catch the word. In any case, Magyar Nemzet was delighted. The headline read: “Members of MSZP cry for rope and Mesterházy agrees.” The paper claimed that several journalists heard it, but it admitted that its tech people had to change a few settings on the recording for the word coming from the audience be audible. A year ago–the paper continued–Mesterházy was much less vehement. Then he declared that there will be no repeat of socialist and later Fidesz attempts at investigating cases of corruption. But now that Gyurcsány is back, “hatred returned.”

So, who said what? Let’s assume for the sake of argument that someone in the crowd indeed yelled the word “rope.” It can easily happen in a crowd of 13,000. But who would think that Mesterházy, a seasoned politician, would be so foolish as to agree with such a proposition if he heard the word properly? He is no fool. Yet the right-wing media keep harping on the theme. MTV’s Híradó (News) repeated the segment eight times, over and over, to make sure it sticks.

How much political ammunition can be gained by this incident? I don’t think much, but surely what Fidesz has in mind is another “rope” story, this time attached to László Kövér, which might have given a slight edge to the socialists in 2002.

During the campaign Kövér delivered a speech to a small audience in which he criticized those who listen to naysayers and those who see only hopelessness and spread disillusionment and suggested that they should go down to the cellar and hang themselves. It was this speech which Ferenc Gyurcsány, as adviser to Péter Medgyessy, decided to use in the last week of the campaign. He claimed later that before they hit on the idea to use this “rope” speech of Kövér, Fidesz was leading. A week later the socialist-liberal coalition, in a close contest, led after the first round of voting.

Maybe Fidesz thinks that this new “rope” story will have the same impact, but I doubt that they are right. First of all, Kövér not once but at least twice used the metaphor of the rope, the cellar, even talking about a big nail on which these people should hang themselves. It was his own voice that was leaked. The present story, which might even be concocted, is different. It is very difficult to connect Mesterházy to wanting to hang anyone and even more difficult to make Gyurcsány responsible for someone asking for a rope for Mészáros.

Fidesz demands an apology while MSZP is suing Magyar Nemzet. MSZP interprets the Fidesz story of the “rope” as a sign of panic after seeing the large and enthusiastic crowd on January 25.  Naturally, they recall the story of Kövér’s speech about the cellar and the rope and promise to sue anyone who claims that Mesterházy said yes to hanging anyone.

The sad thing about this story is that it turns attention away from the rather impressive gathering of the socialists and the program that Mesterházy outlined there. Perhaps this is what Fidesz wanted to achieve.