Tag Archives: Sándor Németh

Olga Kálmán is leaving ATV for Lajos Simicska’s Hír TV

The news of Olga Kálmán’s departure from ATV and her move to Lajos Simicska’s Hír TV has spread like wildfire. This unexpected event prompted scores of negative comments on the Assembly of Faith, the fundamentalist sect that owns ATV. Columnists also bemoaned the sad state of the Hungarian media, which leaves someone like Kálmán with only two choices: either ATV or Hír TV. They reminded their readers that only a couple of years ago Hír TV was part of the Fidesz media empire. Its journalists made it their mission to hunt down all those liberals whom they considered Viktor Orbán’s enemies. Since the Simicska-Orbán fallout two years ago, however, quite a few newcomers joined the staff and its most vicious mud-slingers left. They will find a congenial home in Lőrinc Mészáros’s new acquisition, Echo TV.

It is an anomaly that a basically conservative or even right-wing sect like the Assembly of Faith keeps up a liberal television station. So the clash of cultures within the walls of ATV should have been expected. Critics claim that Sándor Németh, the leader of the Assembly of Faith, made a deal with the devil in 2012 when, they suspect, he agreed to some level of cooperation with the government in return for his sect’s “recognized” status. The Assembly of Faith is certainly the odd man out among the 26 accepted churches.

The first program that ATV scrapped was the Újságíró Klub with György Bolgár, Tamás Mészáros, and János Avar. Every Monday night the three seasoned reporters, with the assistance of a moderator, discussed the main political events of the previous week. In June 2014, after 14 years of great popularity, ATV did not renew their contracts, allegedly because of lack of interest in the program. Its replacement was a flop and died after a single season.

In May 2016 Sándor Friderikusz got the boot, ostensibly because his excellent conversations with intellectuals were deemed to be too serious for the station’s audience. Friderikusz’s liberal outlook was most likely the real reason. In October Friderikusz gave a lengthy interview to Index in which he described the state of affairs in the studios of ATV under the direction of Sándor Németh’s son, Szilárd. Friderikusz recounted a conversation in which Sándor Németh inquired from him whether he was purposely working for the downfall of Viktor Orbán.

And about a month ago we learned that András Bánó, the long-time director of ATV’s excellent news, is leaving the station. Most people doubt that his departure is voluntary. The pressure is on to get rid of certain people.

Meanwhile, there have been signs that the Assembly of Faith, under the leadership of Sándor Németh, is supporting the government’s views on the migrant issue. ATV, for example, agreed to air the government’s anti-migrant ads, which many faithful ATV viewers strenuously objected to. As we learned lately, Sándor Németh is also an admirer of Donald Trump, as you can see from the photo he posted on his Facebook page.

Sándor Németh, leader of Assembly of Faith, is a very happy man

While serious programs have disappeared one by one, a few “light” programs have been introduced. I can’t imagine that ATV’s viewers like Péter Hajdú’s Frisbee or Zsuzsa Csisztu’s Csisztus24. These programs simply don’t belong on a television station that has until now functioned as a quasi public television station. Today I took a look at both: they are dreadful.

Another “lighthearted” program is Judit Péterfi’s Magánszféra, which is supposed to let us in on politicians’ private lives. I described the program after the first episode as “an extended flirtation between the reporter and the politician, initiated primarily by Judit Péterfi.” Another new program, this one for women, seems to be superior to the other new shows–as long, that is, as one can tolerate Henrik Havas’s constant bragging.

I have no idea how these new programs are faring, but I doubt that they are hits. Friderikusz characterized Szilárd Németh’s leadership of the station as “amateurish,” and the latest changes in programming seem to justify his opinion. If Szilárd Németh, who is apparently under the thumb of his father, keeps going in this direction, ATV will soon disappear. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if by next season most of the new programs are scrapped. It was time for Kálmán to leave. It’s just too bad that the only television station that it is still independent belongs to Lajos Simicska. At least this is the opinion of Kálmán’s fans.

On a brighter note, ATV announced that Egyenes beszéd will continue but Szabad szemmel (With Open Eyes) with Antónia Mészáros on Friday evenings will be discontinued. My hunch is that Mészáros, who is a fine reporter, will take over Egyenes beszéd.

The Fidesz media was shocked by the news of Kálmán’s departure for Hír TV. They immediately went into attack mode. According to Magyar Idők, “the employees of Hír TV were perplexed when they received the news that Olga Kálmán was joining their station.” It’s not just the old hands at the station who are worried about their jobs but even those who joined Hír TV in the last couple of years. Magyar Idők learned that “the leadership of ATV has been worried for some time that Hír TV wants to compete with them by espousing a political view farther to the left than ATV is at the moment.”

Origo seems to be worried about Simicska, who allegedly will be overpaying Olga Kálmán. According to Blikk and other right-wing tabloids, like Ripost and 888.hu, Kálmán’s Egyenes beszéd (Straight Talk) is not at all popular. They seem to know that ATV’s “most often watched program is ATV Start, an early morning show.” Moreover, Kálmán’s presence seems to be immaterial to viewers. There was no appreciable difference in the size of viewership when in her absence someone else was before the cameras. So, concludes Origo, “the departure of Olga Kálmán is not an irreplaceable loss to ATV.”

Lokál, a free paper owned by the mysterious Árpád Habony, a right-hand man of Viktor Orbán, portrays Kálmán as a workaholic who was still in the studio four days before her son’s birth and, “as soon as she delivered, she was immediately on the phone on a work-related matter.” The impression these publications are trying to convey is that Kálmán is not only an unpopular TV personality but is also a bad mother. Simicska is wasting his money. All this sounds like sour grapes to me.

When it comes to the offerings of ATV, we must keep in mind that during the day the station airs two-and-a-half hours’ worth of infomercials in addition to the dubbed 700 Club with Pat Robertson, lasting 30 minutes twice a day. On Sundays, one has the pleasure of listening to Sándor Németh’s sermon Vidám Vasárnap (Joyful Sunday). Of course, this is also repeated later. ATV receives quite a bit of money from the Orbán government for airing a documentary series called Hazahúzó (Drawing you home), which depicts different regions of the country. These programs are supposed to be magnets for Hungarians living and working abroad. As we know, all these efforts have been singularly ineffective. This daily program is 40 minutes long and is aired twice a day. So, as you can see, there is a lot of filler here.

During the day I also took the time to check out Hír TV’s fare and found quite a few good programs, including their newscast, which was thorough and professional. At first glance it seems that Hír TV has more substantive programming than ATV. They have only 30 minutes of infomercials, they don’t have to air government propaganda for expats, and they don’t have to show such programs as the 700 Club or Németh’s sermons. On the basis of my sampling, it is definitely worth taking a look at Simicska’s station, quite independently from Olga Kálmán’s joining its staff.

December 18, 2016

Inventing a scandal at the Körmend refugee camp

Just because we haven’t heard about refugees arriving in Hungary lately doesn’t mean they don’t exist. In fact, if one combs through the Hungarian media’s articles on any given Monday one can often read that “over the weekend” several hundred migrants made it again. According to the best estimates, since January 1 about 12,000 men, women, and children reached Hungary. And, it seems, at least ten thousand have miraculously disappeared since. Officials at the Hungarian Immigration Office claim they have no idea where the refugees are. The best bet is that they are already in Austria or maybe even farther west.

The Hungarian authorities are not exactly heartbroken about the disappearance of these people. In fact, they seem to be facilitating their departure by moving refugees who are in camps close to the Serb-Hungarian border or in the center of the country to a newly designated site only a few hundred meters from the Austro-Hungarian border in Körmend. The Austrians aren’t stupid. A couple of days ago the Burgenland police reinforced its supervision of the border around the city. Hungarian intentions are so obvious that even the German conservative paper Die Welt published a long article about the Körmend camp. The author of the article is Boris Kálnoky, who speaks Hungarian and was on the spot when the first group of refugees arrived. As he says, the Hungarian decision to establish a camp in Körmend “suggests that Hungary discreetly wants to get rid of these people.”

Because of the government hysteria created around the refugee issue no community wants to see a refugee camp in its vicinity. Everywhere the government announced its intention to establish such a camp there was such opposition that the idea had to be abandoned. This time the plan was kept secret. It was only a few days ago that people found out that a camp capable of housing 300 migrants will be created in Körmend. After the first 12 migrants arrived, one could hardly find any pepper spray, costing 2,000 forints, anywhere in Körmend. The management of the local Tesco “asked their employees to dress conservatively. ” Blikk reported that “the women of Körmend are afraid to go out alone because of the migrants.” What really worries them is that the refugees can freely move about in the town. A few hours later 888.hu, Gábor G. Fodor’s internet rag, ran an article with the following title: “If you dress provocatively, you may be raped.”

It was in this atmosphere that a journalist of Hetek, a magazine established by Sándor Németh, head of a Pentecostal Christian sect called Assembly of Faith, published two articles. These articles led to great embarrassment for ATV, on whose website they appeared. And the Hungarian government was far too eager to jump in and condemn the events which, as it turned out, never happened.

Hetek is described in Wikipedia as an anti-Muslim publication, which is certainly true, but I don’t agree with the author of the Wikipedia article who describes the magazine as an example of yellow journalism. In general, articles in Hetek are reliable sources of information. It’s just that any article dealing with Islam and the Middle East should be viewed cautiously or skeptically. ATV, my favorite television station, is unfortunately owned by the Assembly of Faith, and the articles that appear on ATV’s website often come from Hetek journalists.

Two articles about the situation in Körmend, written by Zoltán Szobota, who reported from the scene, appeared early this morning. The first piece was a background story about how the camp was established in Körmend behind the backs and against the wishes of the people of the city. He said that nothing was prepared for the arrival of 300 people. The hospital will not be able to handle the migrants’ needs. The association of citizens who are willing to help the police don’t have enough money for 24-hour dispatcher service, police dogs, extra VW Passat cars, etc. Moreover, what an idea to place the camp right next to a high school. It is also unacceptable that the camp is close to the stadium where they hold practices and sporting events. For good measure Szobota added that earlier, when a large number of migrants went through Körmend on their way to Austria, “they robbed a tobacco shop which thanks to the local authorities didn’t become national news,” thus accusing the local police of covering up a crime.

Szobota’s first article was bad enough, but it was the second one that really set the Hungarian media and political sphere ablaze. This story involved the sports stadium he had been worried about already in his first article. He records the “growing aggressiveness” of the migrants as their numbers have grown. Only three days have gone by, and here is the first serious incident. A group of migrants were watching girls playing handball through a window when someone from the school came and told them to leave the premises. One got so mad that he kicked the window. Szobota heard all this from András Faragó, president of the local handball association, who allegedly added that the practice had to be interrupted and the “girls had to be moved to a safe place.” Parents, he said, are outraged that the police aren’t protecting their children. About 100 teenagers visit the stadium every day, and what will happen to their championship games if these girls can’t practice? Faragó himself is worried about his two girls, aged 10 and 13.

You can imagine what happened after the appearance of this article on ATV’s website. Here are some headlines: “Scandal, migrants attack girls playing handball.” “Dread has taken hold of Körmend.” “Because of migrants practices had to be suspended.” “Scandal, migrants harassed female handball team.” Well, one could say that journalists love sensational stories and, after all, ATV’s website gave credible-sounding details of the events. But Hungary’s prime minister also jumped the gun without verifying the story. The government undoubtedly found the story useful in its anti-immigrant campaign preceding the upcoming referendum against “compulsory quotas.” On the government website the following short announcement was made at 14:26. “Because migrants harassed girls playing handball Prime Minister Viktor Orbán instructed Interior Minister Sándor Pintér to take the necessary steps.” A few minutes later one could read on Fidesz’s Facebook page that “We will not have another Cologne here!”

However, less than an hour after Viktor Orbán gave those stern instructions to Sándor Pintér, János Tiborcz, the chief-of-police of Vas County, held a press conference. From it we learned that in Szobota’s entire story there was only one fact that was true: a window in the high school was broken. Otherwise no official of the school talked to the refugees; no one saw who broke the window; the girls didn’t have to be evacuated; the window had been cracked earlier; no one could see anything through the window because, first, the view is obstructed by two large radiators and, second, the window was covered with curtains. As Tiborcz said, “the objective of the article’s author was not a search for truth.” During the press conference one of the journalists asked the police chief about the alleged robbery of a tobacco shop during the fall exodus of refugees to Austria through Körmend. Tiborcz said that he had never heard of such a robbery. And “surely, we would have noticed such an event.”

At this point an unnamed article appeared on ATV’s website in which the management of the station defended the original story of Zoltán Szobota and basically accused the chief-of-police of lying. At almost the same time nyugat.hu got hold of András Faragó, who was Szobota’s chief source of information. After a fairly lengthy telephone conversation the journalist found out that Faragó wasn’t on the scene at all. He had left earlier. When the reporter inquired about the details of the evacuation, Faragó admitted that his own daughter had told him that the team simply went home. A parent nyugat.hu interviewed said the same thing.

In the hysteria created by the Orbán government, the gullible Hungarian public is ready to accept any story that reflects badly on the refugees. This latest piece of fiction should be a major embarrassment to both ATV and the Hungarian government. But we’ve seen before how the government stands by its misinformation and goes against anyone who dares challenge it. I wonder what will happen to that very decent and honest chief-of-police of Vas County.

May 5, 2016