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Back in November, quoting a leaked audio recording, news portal Free Europe (Szabad Európa) claimed that the public media has been setting political directions and anyone who did not like the prescribed direction were asked to leave. Following the leaks, independent MPs filed police reports, which were rejected by the authorities within three days, saying no crime was committed, while the chairman of the Media Council said they had no authority to deal with the leaked material. Independent MP Bernadett Szél called it a “parade” in a Facebook post announcing the news that according to police, the editor only formulated “guidelines,” while the news director gave “recommendations” to the employees.

Recordings leaked from MTVA’s editorial office show that Balázs Bende, MTVA’s editor-in-chief of the foreign policy section, spoke before the 2019 European elections at an editorial meeting, saying that the public media is not supporting the opposition and MTVA employees should make their materials based on the corresponding narrative. He added that whoever doesn’t like the political direction, should resign.

Based on Leaked Audio Recordings, Hungarian Public Television Has Been Setting Political Direction
Based on Leaked Audio Recordings, Hungarian Public Television Has Been Setting Political Direction

Quoting a leaked audio recording, news portal Free Europe (Szabad Európa) claims that it has been said in the public media that anyone who does not like the prescribed direction should leave. The recordings were made in the 2019 European Parliament election campaign, according to which Balázs Bende, the editor-in-chief of the foreign policy section […]Continue reading

The words of channel director Zsolt Németh were also recorded and later published by Szabad Európa (Free Europe). Németh said that in case reporters want to use modifiers, it would be rather useful to invite experts to the show, naming a well-known pro-government public figure as an example, to help “throw it” to the people and “simplify for people” how to interpret a particular communication or information. The one-sided, extremely pro-government stance of the public media has long been criticized by experts and opposition parties while the leadership of the public media insisted that they are following “BBC-standards.”

Police: MTVA editors only set out ‘guidelines’ and ‘recommendations’

After the leak, independent MPs Bernadett Szél, Ákos Hadházy, and Szabolcs Szabó filed reports to both the police and the Media Council. However, the police rejected the complaints within three working days regarding the ‘dishonest treatment of money’ initiated by the representatives. According to the explanatory statement by the police, “Balázs Bende, editor-in-chief, set out guidelines for reporting on the European Union parliamentary elections, and Zsolt Németh, head of news, made recommendations on who could be called in as experts on certain topics.” According to the police, no threat or violence was promoted in the process.

In addition, according to the police, MTVA is conceptually precluded from engaging in dishonest treatment, since it presupposes that it manages external assets. However, it is argued that the media assets managed by MTVA “do not fall within the scope of state assets, as the property rights and obligations have been transferred to MTVA, they are exercised as owners, therefore as a whole, they cannot be considered as external assets.” According to the police, a breach of obligations related to financial activities is required to establish fraudulent treatment that causes a material disadvantage to the Fund itself.

Bernadett Szél: MTVA is actually privately owned by the government

Bernadett Szél shared the news on her Facebook page. The independent MP calls it a parade that, according to the authorities, the editor-in-chief Balázs Bende only formulated ‘guidelines’ and Zsolt Németh only suggested ‘recommendations’ to the MTVA employees. Szél wrote that she has seen many denials of reports, but that goes beyond all of them. She added that although operating from public funds, MTVA is actually privately owned by the government, which has now officially been put into writing by the police. According to Szél, this is another document in Fidesz’s illiberal state, which destroys all checks and balances and breaks down the rule of law.

NMHH has “no authority to deal with the leaks from MTVA”

The representatives also reported the matter to the Media Council (NMHH), alleging a breach of fundamental principles of public media service. However, just like the police, the media council also announced that, in the absence of competence, no proceedings would be initiated in the case of reports started because of the news- editing practice of Duna Media Service Nonprofit. They justified the decision by saying that when applying media regulations, media services can only be held liable for the content they publish, and any violations committed during the production of the program are not covered by media administration legislation. The Media Act also emphasizes the principle of editorial freedom, according to which media service providers are free to define and compile a program on the basis of criteria.

The NMHH wrote in a statement that although the reports contained complaints about the lack of balanced information, under media regulation the board could only investigate this on request and only for specific content. Such an objection must be submitted to the media service provider within 72 hours of the broadcast of the program and a missing position substantially different from the objected information must be identified.

However, some of the submissions received by the Media Council from the MPs did not indicate a specific program, and the two programs mentioned were broadcast several months before the submission of the report, so the special conditions for investigation under the Media Act were not met, according to NMHH’s statement.

Monika Karas, the chairman of NMHH, said at the meeting of the Parliamentary Culture Committee on Tuesday that three reports had been received on the matter, which had been examined in all aspects, but that the NMHH had no authority to deal with the leaks from MTVA. Then, the pro-government majority of the Parliamentary Committee voted 9: 3 against the initiative of the opposition representatives to listen to Monika Karas, Dániel Papp, CEO of MTVA and Menyhért Dobos, CEO of Duna Media Service, due to the sound recordings. Therefore, the issue of the sound recordings will not be further investigated by the committee.

featured photo: illustration, Tibor Illyés/MTI