A recent report of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) has established that the Hungarian state media has the lowest trust index in Europe and is a “textbook example of state control.” A leader in the state media, on the other hand, strongly rejects the “slanderous statements” that in his view were published without any investigation or verification. However, the one-sided, extremely pro-government stance of the public media has long been criticized by the opposition parties and media experts.
Among other things, the EBU’s report states that Hungarian state media has the lowest trust index in Europe, along with Poland.
The report also states that Hungary is one of a number of countries where “right-wing populist governments” have weakened the democratic checks and balances, and there has been a significant backsliding in democratic standards and the public service function of the public media, which is largely politically-controlled and is essentially in the hands of the ruling party.
The report cites Hungary as a textbook example of state control of media space, where public service media “is fully controlled and funded by the government.”
For media control, “Essentially, four things have to happen,” Director of the Center for Media, Data, and Society of the Central European University explains in the report.
The first is control of regulation and regulators (…) You appoint your people to regulatory bodies. The second component is the control of public service media, again, often through appointments. The third is to funnel state funding to certain media in order to control them. State advertising is a good example, because it can be used as a lever to achieve control of private media. The fourth element is to take over the ownership of private media. It doesn’t have to be all of them. It just has to be enough to help you win the next election. This final step is the most difficult one. In many ways, a textbook example of these four elements at work is in Hungary.”
State Media: Slanderous statements- media not under political control
The European Broadcasting Union (EBU) News Report 2021, published on November 22, 2021, contains a number of distorted, self-serving, and worrying statements about the Hungarian public media system, Menyhért Dobos, CEO of Duna Médiaszolgáltató Nonprofit Zrt., wrote in a letter in response, addressed to Delphine Ernotte Cunci, President of the EBU.
The CEO of Duna Médiaszolgáltató Nonprofit Zrt. said that he found it a travesty that while no one from the public media was contacted when the report was prepared, a journalist from a commercial media outlet (from liberal 444) was, and then the slanderous statements were published as fact without any investigation or verification. The CEO added that he strongly rejects the accusation of political control over public media.
Dobos also added that an organization like the EBU, which claims to be independent, impartial, and credible, uses biased methodologies in its reporting, refuting everything it so proudly proclaims.
At the end of his letter, the CEO asked President Delphine Ernotte Cunci to give him the opportunity to express his views on future reports involving the public service media, as it is a basic press ethical requirement in any 21st-century media.
State media’s bias long debated
State media’s biases have long been criticized, and several cases appear to confirm the tendency. News coverage and related shows usually reflect the Fidesz government’s position, such as its criticism of “Brussels,” while Russia and China are given different treatment. Opposition events (such as the opposition primaries, when only the official final results were published) and politicians (they are only left to appear to the amount set in the law) are also generally overlooked.
In a leaked recording around the 2019 EP campaign, the editor-in-chief of the foreign policy section of the M1 news channel, Balázs Bende, warned that “this institution…does not support the opposition coalition,” while materials must be written “along the right narrative, the right method and direction,” and those who do not like this direction should resign.
Magyar Hang also revealed that the state media’s social media page spends a lot of money on advertising coverage slamming opposition politicians.
Recently, a minor diplomatic conflict arose between Hungary and Austria after Hungarian public television aired a short report (titled “The journalist provoked by asking questions”) attacking an Austrian journalist for questions she posed to the EP’s Fidesz representatives.
And in latest news, the EU wants to take up the fight against fake news by setting up a joint news agency in Brussels, but the Hungarian state wire service hasn’t been asked to join the initiative.
featured image illustration via Tibor Illyés/MTI