Debates over Hungarian media freedom have flared up again, three years after the controversy of 2011. Hanna Kereszturi analyses the Fidesz government’s fractious relationship with the media.
Several issues have been building since the start of this year, indicating heavy-handed government meddling in Hungarian independent media. In January, MSZP and Együtt-PM, two opposition parties, reported the sale of one of the country’s largest TV channels, TV2, after suspicions of third party involvement in the transaction.
Even though it was masqueraded as a ‘management buy-out’, there is good reason to believe that those responsible were not in fact the directors, but FIDESZ oligarchs. The law office that supervised the transaction, for example, has established ties to businessmen associated with the regime. It also remains somewhat ambiguous as to how the two managers are able to finance the buy out of the 7 billion forint (23 million Euro) company, and what the terms of the loans and installments involved in the transaction really are.
The independent news site, Origo, also caused a public outcry with a recently published article detailing the business trip of leading FIDESZ politician, János Lázár. A journalist from Origo reported that Lázár, together with one other colleague, spent close to 2 million forints (6, 590 Euro) on three business trips, totaling seven days. A lawsuit was filed against the politician, accusing him of failing to file a proper record of his expenses abroad.
Before the investigation, the government had not disclosed how many people partook on said trips to the U.K., Switzerland and Italy. Therefore, it was a little shocking to everyone when it was revealed that the party consisted of merely two, very extravagant people. Although the regime did manage to share a few minor details about the excursions, the judge ruled that there must be more transparency concerning government spending. Although the identity of Lázár’s business partners need not be revealed, their position or rank should be, namely whether the Hungarian ‘delegation’ was meeting with a “pool boy or a competent person”.
Gergo Sáling, Origo’s editor in chief, was dismissed shortly after, allegedly due to building political pressures. Lázár encouraged Sáling to comment on the politician’s role in the editor’s dismissal, as an “honorable and honest man”, even though it is public knowledge that Sáling is bound by a secrecy clause in his contract. Tuesday afternoon witnessed a public demonstration in Budapest against the editor’s dismissal, and several of Origo’s journalists have announced that they will be resigning as soon as their contracts permit them to.
To add insult to injury, a new law may soon be put to vote in Parliament. The new advertisement tax is structured to hit independent media sources the hardest, namely the television station, RTL Klub, TV2’s largest competitor. The government hopes to heap even more pressure on independent news channels. Reporters Without Borders publicly condemned both the advertisement tax and the dismissal of Origo’s editor in chief, commenting that it “represents a huge setback for independent Hungarian journalism, and will have negative consequences for the country’s future development”.
A HVG journalist deems the recent media attacks as merely consequences of Orbán’s war on everything; the creation of perpetual enemies (be it the EU, the Roma, the homosexual or foreign interests), to fuel an incompetent, and semi-autocratic regime. Today it’s the free media that’s being targeted by the fanatics in Parliament, but who will tomorrow’s enemy be? Orbán has no incentive to discontinue his perpetual war, because then he would have to answer to why every second Hungarian is child malnourished when in fact, according to the Fidesz party’s campaign slogan, “Hungary is continually doing better”.