Press Freedom in Hungary
under the Orbán Government
After the Orbán-government took office in 1998,
Hungary's decade-long 'media war' flared up again. The right/conservative
government's efforts to gain control over the media in order to receive
positive coverage encountered intense protest from both the opposition
parties and the journalistic community. As a result, the government had
to reconsider its interventionist media policy. This paper reviews and
analyzes the events of the period 1998-2001, and formulates some policy
proposals that could enhance and protect press freedom in Hungary.
1. A new media policy-and a new media war
Fidesz-MPP, the winner of the legislative elections
in Hungary in the spring of 1998, summarized its policies in the slogan
"More than a government change, less than a regime change."(1)
The new right conservative coalition lead by Fidesz-MPP discharged the
former left/liberal government and adhered to its promise: it intervened
in and reorganized the economy, the cultural sphere, and the media. (2)
Prior to the elections, the press and media landscape seemed peaceful.
(3) Although the reign of the first
freely elected government in 1990-1994 was characterized by a 'media war',
(4) which the compromise-based passing
of the 1996 Broadcasting Act, and the establishment of the institutions
that license and fund the media, put an end to, at least provisionally.
In 1997, a dual (public service and commercial) broadcasting system was
introduced. The major national commercial television channels and radio
stations were owned by foreign, mostly West European, owners; local radio
stations and cable television channels were run by Hungarian private investors
and the local municipalities. The majority of the newspapers had been
privatized as early as 1989-1991. In the mid-1990s, most of the national
and regional daily titles(5) were
owned by Western European companies, while political weeklies and other
periodicals were run by Hungarian private investors or state-owned banks.
However, because of the small size of the Hungarian market, only one national
quality daily, the left/liberal Népszabadság, and the county dailies were
profitable while the rest of the papers made a loss, the right/conservative
ones in particular. At the national level, supply seemed sufficient in
both the press and the media, although-as elsewhere in the world-ownership
concentration was increasing. Despite insufficient supply at a local level
few would have argued that press freedom was at risk. By 1998, the media
war of the early 1990s was only an unpleasant memory for most people.
However, after Viktor Orbán, premier of the newly-elected government,
launched its new media policy the press and media became veritable battlefields
once again.(6) Press freedom came
to be an issue and was, according to many analysts, endangered. The media
policy makers of the opposition parties, as well as a number of journalists
said that a new media war was beginning.(7)
A protest movement emerged in response to the government's media policy,
and in the spring of 2000, a street demonstration was organized involving
15,000 people, debates were also held to contest policy measures. International
journalists' organizations and representatives of the European Union and
the United States warned the Hungarian government that its media policy
did not comply with democratic standards. Hundreds of newspaper articles
and dozens of caricatures were published on the subject.(8)
In this paper, I will review the major developments in the Hungarian press
and media between May 1998 and December 2001. I will then offer a critical
analysis of the government's media policy from a liberal perspective.
Moreover, I will argue that the government's interference with the press
and the media generated intense resistance, and that this resistance was
at least partly successful. At the end of this paper, I will put forward
some policy proposals that could protect and enhance press freedom. These
policy measures are unlikely to be considered by the current right/conservative
government; in fact, they are intended to exclude the current political
interference in press freedom. For this reason, they are designed for
future governments with a liberal media policy, as well as for non-governmental
As mentioned above, this paper is based on a liberal approach to press
freedom. Accordingly, the Orbán Government's media policy and its practical
consequences are measured against the ideal that one major function of
the press is that of public watchdog, i.e. to defend democratic values
and to prevent the rise of oligarchies (Kunczik 2001: 71-76). Press freedom
will be defined as the right of journalists to publish any facts or opinions,
however unpopular, and the public's right to receive adequate information
on public matters in order to be able to make informed decisions when
casting their ballots (McQuail 1994: 130; Keane 1991: 131). This is an
instrumental approach to press freedom in the sense that press freedom
is not considered an end itself, but a means for popular sovereignty.
The definition above is derived from Article 19 of the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights according to which "Everyone has the right to freedom
of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions
without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas
through any media..."
This definition implies that at least three criteria need to be met for
press freedom to exist including 1)
freedom of information, i.e. journalists must have access to any information
of public interest;(10) 2)
absence of interference in editorial decisions, i.e. no political or economic
lobby should exert pressure on press and media contents; and 3)
external pluralism, i.e. the public must have access to a variety of views
from the press and media as a whole.(11)
This liberal concept of press freedom also implies that journalists must
adhere to certain norms, including a critical attitude, the separation
of fact from opinion, emotional detachment and certain criteria in news
2. The Orbán government's media policy
and its reception
The Orbán government's media policy in the years
1998-2001 can be divided into two phases. In the first, moderate phase,
the government began to change the status quo in the sector, but it was
careful to avoid conflict. In the second, radical phase, it interfered
directly with the press and media. In this latter phase, a sharp conflict
emerged between, on the one hand, the government and the 'right/conservative'
(i.e. pro-government) press and media, and on the other hand, the 'left/liberal'
(i.e. critical) press and media, the left/liberal opposition, some non-governmental
organizations and even some representatives of foreign countries.(13)
2.1. The Orbán government's media policy
The first phase began shortly after the new
government took office and lasted until the end of the summer of 1998.
Under the previous left/liberal government, advertisements for state-owned
companies had been published in the left/liberal newspapers because these
reached a greater audience than the right/conservative papers. Now, in
an attempt to subsidize the right/conservative press, which was without
exception making huge losses, the new government redistributed these commercials
to 'loyal' newspapers.(14) Also,
by giving interviews to the right/conservative press and media on an almost
exclusive basis, senior politicians from the coalition parties ensured
that the bulk of information of public interest was reserved for the press
and media loyal to them-and that they were not asked challenging questions.
In particular, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán introduced regular interviews
on Hungarian public-service radio in which he discussed various political
matters including party politics. At the same time, however, Hungarian
Radio failed to provide the opposition with sufficient airtime to respond.
Despite these developments, however, no one had yet realized that radical
changes were ahead; nor was there any substantial protest against any
of these media policy measures.
In the second phase, by contrast, things changed radically. The major
developments in this period, beginning in September 1998, can be summarized
in a chronological order as follows:
The Orbán-government's media policy is a
continuation of the media policy of the first freely elected Hungarian government.
In 1990-1994, the then ruling right/conservative coalition attempted to
launch loyal newspapers and media, to control critical organs, and to exert
pressure over Hungarian Radio and Hungarian Television. As both a substantial
part of the journalistic community and the then opposition parties protested,(47)
the 'media war' broke out. Just as the media policy of the first democratically
elected government in the early 1990s, the Orbán government's policy yielded
a similar state of war, including wide-scale protest.
- In September 1998, the prime minister announced
the government's policy of "balance" in the media, i.e. of
breaking the alleged hegemony of the left/liberal press and media, and
to positively discriminate toward the right/conservative newspapers.(15)
- In October, the state-owned bank and newspaper
publisher Postabank ceased to cover the losses of two left/liberal newspapers,
the weekly Magyar Narancs and the daily Kurír, and also denied the editorial
boards the right to use the titles. While the former paper continued
to survive under the new title MaNcs, the latter ceased publication.(16)
- In October, the senior news staff of public
service Hungarian Television was removed and new editors loyal to the
government, including Péter Feledy and Péter Heltay, were appointed.(17)
- In October and November, there were press
reports on the findings of an empirical survey conducted by the Monitoring
Group of the National Radio and Television Board (the media supervisory
authority) about the news programs of the various broadcast media. These
revealed that the government and the coalition parties were largely
over-represented in the broadcast media with coverage at about 80 per
cent of all news. Commentators noted that this ratio went beyond both
the British and the French broadcasting standards.(18)
- In February 1999, a right/conservative majority
in Parliament elected an 'incomplete' Board of Trustees to manage Hungarian
Television. The body was incomplete in the sense that its executive
committee consisted of the representatives of the coalition parties
only.(19) János Áder, Speaker
of the House (who was appointed by the government), refused to introduce
nominees from the opposition parties for election to Parliament. His
argument was that, according to the 1996 Broadcasting Act, altogether
the three opposition parties should nominate four members to the board.(20)
The problem was that two of the three opposition parties intended to
nominate two trustees each: The Party of Hungarian Truth and Life (MIÉP),
an extreme right, anti-Semitic, anti-European Union and anti-NATO political
force, a minor party with 13 seats in Parliament; and the Hungarian
Socialist Party (MSZP), the largest opposition party with 135 MPs. Their
four nominees added to a single nominee from the third opposition party,
the liberal Free Democrats Association (SZDSZ) amounted to five trustees
altogether. Following the election of the incomplete Board, the socialist
and liberal opposition parties questioned the legitimacy of the body.
They pointed out that its election contravened the Broadcasting Act
which rules that public service media must be free from bias. In addition,
they argued that, unlike the coalition, the opposition parties were
not bound by a common program that would oblige them to find a common
denominator. It was their view that all five nominees should be introduced
for election with it being a matter for the House to decide. The SZDSZ
called upon the Court of Registration not to register the new Board.
The MSZP lodged an appeal with the Supreme Court and the Attorney General.
The Constitutional Court also addressed the issue. The complexity of
this case is indicated by the fact that both the Court of Registration
and the Attorney General found the establishment of an incomplete Board
to be illegitimate, while the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court
ruled for the board's legitimacy (The Constitutional Court decision
was not unanimous, of the eleven members five held an opposite, minority,
opinion. Furthermore, its decision presupposes that all parties have
nominated some members, something János Áder denies but which the socialist
and the liberal parties affirm.)(21)
- In May the police confiscated the computers
and databank of the weekly Kriminális after it published some allegedly
classified documents. As a result of this police action, the newspaper
ceased publication. László Juszt, editor-in-chief of both the weekly
and of a television show broadcast under the same title, was immediately
dismissed from Hungarian Television and his passport was confiscated
by the police. When the investigation was completed Juszt was found
to be innocent, a view later confirmed by Data Protection Ombudsman
- In the summer, the coalition parties announced
the introduction of two media bills. The first aimed to establish a
press fund to support loss-making newspapers with the fact in view that
in the Hungarian market left/liberal newspapers tend to be more profitable
than the right/conservative ones. The second bill, the so-called Lex
Pokol, aimed to provide those offended by opinion articles with a right
to respond in the same organs in the case of "socially unfavorable
- In August, Anikó Dicső, journalist of the
second public service channel Duna Television interviewed the then Minister
for Agriculture, József Torgyán. After a few questions, Torgyán felt
that the young female reporter was asking "dilettante" and
"provocative" questions and ordered his bodyguards to seize
her videotape and to check her identity card. The Publicness Club, an
NGO founded by liberal intellectuals to protect press freedom, sued
the politician. After a brief investigation, however, the attorney closed
the case, and rejected the Club's claim, accepting the minister's argument
that he had only "asked" for the journalist's documents.(24)
- In September, the economic daily Világgazdaság
and other newspapers publicized the so-called "VIP list" containing
the names of politicians, leading artists and sports people to whom
the state-owned Postabank had granted loans at an unusually preferential
rate of interest. The police searched the newsrooms of the newspapers
and prosecuted them for breaching bank confidentiality. The editors
argued that those whose names appeared on the list were public figures
who had been granted allowances because they were in influential positions,
and that, according to a former decision of the Constitutional Court,
their privacy is more circumscribed than that of the average citizen.(25)
- In September, some newspapers revealed that
Nagyvilág, a literary periodical publishing the works of senior government
officers and advisors, was granted aid totaling HUF 110 million (USD
400,000) over a period of six years from the resources of the Ministry
of National Cultural Heritage. This grant-the amount of which varied
between HUF 10 to 20 million annually-is much higher than that of the
periodical second on the list of subventions, which in 1999 was granted
HUF 8 million.(26)
- In October, the National Cultural Program
granted a HUF 4 million (USD 14,300) support to Magyar Demokrata, an
extreme right weekly political magazine. The decision was contested
on two grounds: the anti-Semitic views of the newspaper, and also that
all the other newspapers receiving support were apolitical cultural
- During the fall of 1999, the newly appointed
president of Hungarian Television fired hundreds of journalists from
public service television. Several of them, including Judit Kóthy, were
dismissed because of their critical opinions of the new management of
the institution.(28) Their massive
dismissal was justified by the financial difficulties of the institution:
Hungarian Television produced a daily loss of HUF 20 million (USD 7,000).
At the same time, however, journalists loyal to the new government,
but lacking any experience in television journalism were employed.(29)
- In December, the government decided not to
register the minutes of ministerial meetings. This measure was interpreted
by observers, including Data Protection Ombudsman László Majtényi, as
a limitation of the transparency of the democratic decision making process.(30)
- In January 2000, the president of Hungarian
Radio suggested that the Code of Practice of the institution should
include a paragraph ruling that even humorous programs, and the decades-old
program "Radio Cabaret" in particular, be based on the principle
of "media balance." The proposal was that the coalition and
the opposition should be given an equal amount of criticism. Protests
from leading journalists and intellectuals led to the proposal being
- In February, the Scandinavian Broadcasting
System, the majority owner of the commercial channel TV2 bought out
TV3, a channel run by Central European Media Enterprises, and closed
it down on the very same day.(32)
The case is a clear indication that not only political forces, but also
business interests, and the concentration of ownership in particular,
may seriously reduce choice and thus endanger press freedom.
- In February, Attorney General Kálmán Györgyi
published his opinion of the establishment of the incomplete Board of
Trustees of Hungarian Television. He pointed out that as the appointment
process was illegitimate, ergo, so was the management appointed by the
board. However, according to János Áder, Speaker of the House, the attorney's
opinion had no "legal relevance" and did not oblige Parliament
to reconsider the election of the incomplete Board.(33)
- In February, the National Radio and Television
Board, dominated by a right/conservative majority, distributed a number
of new local and regional radio licenses. The winners included, among
others, Pannon Rádió, a station associated with MIÉP. At the same time,
the joint application of the BBC, Radio France Internationale and Deutsche
Welle was rejected, as was the application of Radio C, a project from
the Roma community.(34) The license
of the oldest Hungarian community radio station Tilos Rádió, run by
former editors of the liberal weekly Magyar Narancs, was not renewed.
- At the end of February and in March, Parliament
elected the members of the new Board of Trustees of Hungarian Radio
and Danube Television. The Speaker of the House refused, once again,
to introduce the nominees of the opposition. He argued that the opposition
parties-including the extreme right MIÉP, the socialist MSZP and the
liberal SZDSZ-should find a common denominator regarding their nominees.
The legitimacy of this argument was, however, brought into question
by arguments according to which there was an informal cooperation between
MIÉP and the coalition: in exchange for MIÉP's obstruction of the nomination
process, some extreme right journalists, such as István Lovas, who also
works for Magyar Demokrata, obtained key executive and consultancy positions
in Hungarian Television.(35)
- In order to have one widely read right/conservative
daily political newspaper, the government united the center/right Magyar
Nemzet with the radical/right Napi Magyarország under the name Magyar
Nemzet. The overwhelming majority of the journalists under the new title
were those of the former Napi Magyarország, while most of those from
Magyar Nemzet were dismissed. In order to raise the circulation of Magyar
Nemzet, Sportfogadás (Sportsbetting), a formerly independent non-political
newspaper began to be edited as a supplement to the new-old title from
April 17 onwards.
- In May, Parliament expanded the law on lustration
to include leading journalists and editors of the print press, the public,
and the private media, as well as on-line magazines. The modification
was initiated by László Csúcs, a senior politician of the Independent
Smallholders Party (FKgP), and vice-president of Hungarian Radio during
the media war of the early 1990s.(36)
- In July, Attila Varga, a journalist from
the left/liberal daily Népszabadság, was interrogated concerning suspected
libel at the police headquarters in Budapest's third district for an
article about FKgP politician Gyula Balogh. His fingerprints and photo
were registered. The procedure was based on a modification of the law
on the registration of criminals, effective from March 1, 2000, which
entitled the authorities to treat those arraigned under private allegations
in the same way as those committing major offenses such as homicide.
Left/liberal opposition politicians urged a modification of the law.
The Hungarian Journalists Association protested against the police action
and made an address to the Constitutional Court. Finally, in September
2000, Parliament abolished the modification.
- In July, 11 people submitted an application
for the presidency of Hungarian Radio. However, the incomplete Board
of Trustees proposed a single individual to the civil members of the
board,(38) radio journalist Katalin
Kondor. She had been widely criticized by the left/liberal press, as
well as the socialist and liberal opposition parties for her uncritical
weekly interviews of Prime Minister Orbán. The civil members of the
board did not vote in favor of the nominee. Both the left/liberal press
and the opposition parties denounced the nomination procedure.(39)
While Hungarian Radio had no president, a provisional president assumed
management of its daily affairs.
- In August, Minister of the Interior Sándor
Pintér stated in an interview to Magyar Hírlap that the media and the
forces of organized crime were likely to have close connections. When
asked to detail his suspicions, he refused to give concrete examples.
According to István Csurka, president of MIÉP, the press and media were
lying and serving "foreign" interests. In September, the president
of Fidesz-MPP László Kövér stated publicly that the Mafia was supported
by some "media stars," pointing out that the government was
surrounded by "hostile" media. In November, he denounced the
press again, arguing that it was still under the influence of "old
Bolshevik editors". In November and December, the Minister for
Agriculture József Torgyán-who had been widely criticized by the press
and media after he had a new house built but had failed to declare the
resources used for its construction-made similar declarations. According
to him, journalists used "the methods of Goebbels' propaganda"
and were under the influence of the liberal SZDSZ. He revealed his party's
plan to introduce a bill that would allow state authorities to "close
down lying press organs." (This bill has, however, not been introduced.)(40)
- In September, a dismissed press officer from
the Ministry of Defense revealed that his former ministry granted a
monthly HUF 800,000 (USD 2,900) to Kis Újság, an FKgP newspaper.(41)
In November, the press disclosed that the same newspaper has received
regular support from the Ministry of Environment for its publication
of articles about the environment; the amount had totaled HUF 5 million
(USD 18,000) since May 2000. Pál Pepó, the former Minister of the Environment
who had made the decision concerning this support, admitted that the
money was granted to the newspaper without any formal tendering procedure.(42)
- In September, the government introduced a
bill according to which "those who [...] publicly spread unreal
facts or real facts in an unrealistic way that may provoke worry or
disorder among a great number of people, commit a crime and are punishable
with up to three years of imprisonment." Observers noted that the
bill aimed to frighten journalists because it treated professional questions
as a criminal ones.(43) The bill
has never been passed.
- In October, the print press revealed that
the government planned to launch a new weekly. The Foundation that was
to publish it was granted HUF 1,5 billion (USD 5,360,000) from the state
budget. The newspaper, to be established under the title Heti Válasz
(Weekly Response), was to be edited by István Elek, media policy advisor
to the prime minister. Although the new title was, according to official
declarations, to protect public health and communities, analysts felt
it would be a mouthpiece for the government to promote a right/conservative
- In October, Judit Körmendy-Ékes, president
of the National Radio and Television Board, stated at a public conference
that the Internet should be regulated and supervised by the board. She
referred to similar Western European endeavors.(45)
The online journalistic community was outraged and voiced fears about
centralization and the limitation of the freedom of expression.(46)
2.2. The reception of the Orbán government's
Protest against the Orbán government's media
policy involved a part of the journalistic community, the socialist and
liberal opposition parties, NGOs, the representatives of Western democratic
countries to Hungary, and took the following forms:
- Leading journalists published a number of
opinion articles contesting the government's media policy.(48)
Cartoonists published several caricatures ridiculing the government's
media policy makers.(49) Newspapers
reported on articles published in the Western press that criticized
the Hungarian government's media policy,(50)
and publicized readers' letters protesting against the government's
measures to hinder journalistic autonomy.(51)
In order to prevent the passage of Lex Pokol, newspapers reviewed the
regulation of the media in established democracies.(52)
They also reported on the critical opinion of Western professional organizations.(53)
- Professional organizations were activated.
The Hungarian Journalists Association protested on several occasions.(54)
The employees of Hungarian Television published a common declaration
protesting against the management's "censoring" of their work.(55)
Also, various NGOs issued declarations in the newspapers and media in
defense of press freedom.(56)
- NGOs organized street demonstrations to support
press freedom. For example, on March 15, 2000 (Press Freedom Day, and
the anniversary of the 1848 Revolution) the Movement for Free Speech
and the Civic Forum organized a demonstration with thousands of participants
on the streets of Budapest.(57)
- At the election of the president of Hungarian
Radio, civil members of the Board of Trustees refused to vote for Katalin
Kondor, nominee of the incomplete presidency of the board.(58)
- The socialist and liberal opposition parties
protested in various legal fora against the establishment of the incomplete
Board of Trustees. In early March 2000, the Hungarian Socialist Party
proposed the establishment of a Parliamentary Committee to reveal whether
or not the government had influenced public service broadcasters.(59)
- The independent actors of the state administration
also protested: on March 6, 2000, Attorney General Kálmán Györgyi resigned.
Although he did not give reasons for his decision, the press interpreted
his action as a protest against the Speaker of the House who had ignored
his opinions concerning the illegitimate operation of the incomplete
Board of Hungarian Television. Györgyi did not deny this interpretation.(60)
Foreign political organizations and their representatives
also protested in various fora. On March 16, the United States Ambassador
Peter Tufo sent a letter to Prime Minister Orbán noting that the international
coverage of the incomplete boards could have an unwelcome impact on Hungary's
foreign reputation. The United Kingdom's Ambassador Nigel Thorpe made
a similar declaration. Michael Lake, a representative of the European
Union also criticized the establishment of the incomplete Board of Trustees.(61)
As a result of the intense protest, press freedom became a salient issue
and, as massive participation in the street demonstrations revealed, a
concern for a number of people. The efforts of a part of the journalism
community and other actors were not ineffectual and have contributed to
the government's retreat in various areas. The most significant results
were the following:
- Parliament withdrew a modification to a law
enabling the police to register the fingerprints and photographs of
journalists accused of libel.
- A bill that would have introduced sanctions
against those spreading disquieting rumors has never been passed.
- Plans to establish a press fund in order
to channel the commercial incomes of the left/liberal papers equally
to right/conservative ones have been dropped.
- Lex Pokol, a bill which would have granted
a right of reply to articles expressing "socially unfavorable"
opinions has not even been introduced.
- The modification of the Code of Practice
of Hungarian Radio, designed to "balance" Radio Cabaret was
- The civil members of the Board of Hungarian
Radio obstructed and delayed Katalin Kondor's nomination as president.(62)
In total, the government's media policy
has had an unwanted side-effect: it has mobilized a huge part of the journalistic
community, civil society, the socialist and liberal opposition, and even
the representatives of foreign countries against the government's efforts.
These groups, as well as the readers of critical newspapers, were all
brought to a common platform in contesting the government's policy, which
then forced the government to reconsider, and in some cases even relax,
its media policy.
The reaction of the journalistic community, and especially its mobilizing
force in civil society have demonstrated what is generally referred to
as the 'watchdog' function of the press and media. By trying to obstruct
the government's hegemonic endeavors, journalists have done their job,
which Kunczik (2001: 73) defines as helping to "prevent the establishment
of oligarchic leadership that is fundamentally harmful to the development
3. The Orbán government's media policy
The Hungarian government's efforts to transform
the prevailing status quo in the press and media had the ultimate aim
of silencing critical voices and obtaining positive press coverage. The
underlying assumption was that better coverage would help the coalition
parties maximize votes at the forthcoming elections in 2002. The methods
the government had recourse to in order to achieve this aim differ in
that some of them are legitimate while others are not. The legitimate
means of the government's political communication strategy, such as the
organization of various 'media events' that helped the coalition set the
public agenda are not discussed in this paper. The following chapters
focus on practices whose legitimacy is questionable. For the very reason
that intervention aimed at promoting pro-government press and media is
contestable, the government's media policy makers invented two concepts
to justify their policy, namely "media balance" and "loyal
journalism". In what follows I will study these principles.
3.1. The concept of media balance
In the period since Prime Minister Viktor
Orbán declared forthcoming changes "in the media, the cultural sphere
and the corporate sphere", shortly after the electoral victory of
the right/conservative coalition,(63)
the concept of "media balance" has been repeated in various
political fora by the representatives of the coalition parties.(64)
The term has entered into public discourse, and become subject to various
public debates and opinion articles.
The major argument for supporting the concept of media balance is that
there is a structural inequality in the press and media markets. As both
newspaper publication and broadcasting are costly and risky businesses,
rich competitors have an advantage over poor ones-the rich get richer
and the poor get poorer. Inequality is constantly reproduced for as long
as the state does not interfere. Free competition among the various newspapers
and media does not necessarily imply that there is free competition among
the represented ideas as well. In contrast to the classical liberal view,
the press and media markets are not a "market place of ideas".
Business success does not solely depend on the ideas represented by the
different organs, but also on marketing, design, and the big names which
the investors can buy. As a result, the argument goes, the Hungarian press
and media markets keep reproducing the hegemony of the left/liberal voices
they inherited from state-socialism and the subsequent privatization which
favored the old nomenclature and journalist elite. As István Elek, media
policy advisor to the prime minister has put it:
"In decades prior to the political transformation, the various colors
of the communist, socialist worldview had a quasi-monopoly in Hungary's
print press and broadcast media. [...] The so-called spontaneous privatization
at the end of the previous decade was controlled by the elite of journalists
and former party functionaries. [...] The current position [of the different
newspapers and media] is determined by competitive advantages and disadvantages
that, as a result of former decades and of the transformation, existed
when the new era began. [...] Positive discrimination promoting the representation
of right values in the press is morally justified by the suppression of
these values under socialism as well as their [negative] discrimination
in the transformation years." (Elek 1999:184)
The advocates of the concept of media balance think that the state must
do something in order to help publishers and broadcasters that have difficulties
surviving. It has to intervene in the press and media markets, i.e. resort
to political and administrative means to influence the circulation of
newspapers and the audience viewing figures of the media. They think that
state support will enable the unsuccessful newspapers and media to make
up for their structural disadvantages. They point to the Constitution,
which rules that "The Republic of Hungary promotes equality before
the law by implementing measures that make up for the inequality of opportunity."(66)
The realization of the concept of media balance has three versions. The
first version suggests legal intervention. The Lex Pokol suggested that
a "right to respond" be granted to those criticized in opinion
articles. The idea underlying the bill was that the successful (i.e. left/liberal)
newspapers and media should cover the costs of delivering unsuccessful
(i.e. right/conservative) opinions to the public.
The second version suggests financial intervention and has three scenarios:
The state reallocates the advertisements of state-run companies and banks
to titles that are loyal to the government;(67)
The state redistributes a part of the revenues of the commercially successful
newspapers and media through a Press Fund to the commercially unsuccessful
The state takes HUF 2-3 billion (USD 7-10 million) from the central budget
and grants it to the unsuccessful titles and media.(69)
Those advocating these scenarios refer to Western examples such as the
Scandinavian countries or France where the state grants support to low
circulation newspapers and the local media.
The third version of the concept suggests intervention in the ownership
structure of the press and media. It is in this spirit that the government
united the two right/conservative dailies and that the coalition elected
the incomplete Boards of Trustees of the public service broadcasters.
Attempts to close down some left/liberal newspapers and to grant licenses
to right/conservative radio stations were also a part of this effort.
The argument supporting the concept of media balance has its roots in
a real problem, that of self-reproducing inequalities in the press and
media markets. It rightfully criticizes the classic liberal view that
the market will regulate itself justly. However, the kind of remedy suggested
by the advocates of the concept of media balance-i.e. state intervention
into the market on the basis of the political content of the newspapers
and media-is contestable because it is based on a misinterpretation of
Western examples. The Scandinavian or French media policies that aim to
counterbalance structural inequalities do not aim to provide equal chances
for the right/conservative and the left/liberal press and media. They
simply cater for the survival of the poorest titles and broadcasters.(70)
The function of state subsidies in the Scandinavian countries and in France
is to give a voice to marginal views. There, support is offered to the
organs of those groups that lack the political and economic means to have
their voice heard by the majority. Support is granted to 'green', feminist
and anarchist groups, as well as to ethnic and religious communities.
In addition, press funds in these countries are set up to prevent the
establishment of local monopolies. If the market in a country town cannot
sustain more than one newspaper, a second title is subsidized by the state.
This second title is subsidized regardless of its political orientation.
This practice has nothing to do with the Hungarian government's concept
of media balance conceived in terms of national political cleavages.
The redistribution mechanisms in Western Europe aim to bring about a plurality
of opinion: they support the publication of views that otherwise would
not have a chance to be published. Their aim is not to provide equal representation
to views that are already represented in some national newspapers or media
and, perhaps even more importantly, in Parliament. In these countries,
state intervention in the press and media markets is based on the idea
that all views need to be represented regardless of their actual content.
That citizens need to know a variety of different political views in order
to be able to make political decisions. It is therefore in the public
interest that all views be accessible. By contrast, state support to one
single group of views-right/conservative views in Hungary's case-would
serve a particular interest.
The Western European politicians who argue for the redistribution of a
proportion of the revenues of the commercially successful press and media
demand money for the marginal. The Hungarian government politicians arguing
for redistribution demand money for their own supporters. Were the concept
of media balance realized, it would be institutionalized theft: it would
allow the newspapers and media loyal to the government to have a share
in the commercial revenues of the press and media criticizing the government.
3.2. The concept of loyal journalism
The other concept used to legitimate the
government's media policy is that of "loyal journalism". The
origins of this concept are uncertain, but there seem to be three sources:
Firstly, when the Hungarian Journalists Association split in 1992, the
newly formed Hungarian Journalists Community put forward the concept of
"fair press" (as opposed to that of a free press), arguing that
journalists need to support the government and help it consolidate the
new democratic order. Secondly, in a study István Elek, media policy advisor
to the prime minister, wrote that "[on the basis of the government's
electoral victory and] for the public good, the new government must play
a more active role on the marketplace of ideas... and of loyalties"
(Elek 1999:179; emphasis added). Thirdly, radio journalist Katalin Kondor,
regular interviewer of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, and the president
of Hungarian Radio, has put forward the concept that Hungarian Radio should
be the "loyal opposition" of the government.(72)
The concept of loyal journalism suggests that the press and media must
be loyal to the government. As Domokos György Varga, an extreme right
journalist, wrote in his book analyzing the Hungarian media war from a
"The most powerful argument for loyal journalism is that democracy
is based on free elections [...] and for this reason the elected government
represents the people's will, it is the trustee of the public will. Therefore
it is entitled to limit the power of the press (which power is not derived
from general elections), and to create opportunities to have its voice
heard and get the public know its policies and objectives (through the
public service media). The loyal journalist accepts this principle and
meets the function of gatekeeper while keeping an eye on the government's
interests; he or she reports on events from the government's perspective,
and protects the government's position." (Varga 2001: 205)
Somewhat paradoxically, the right/conservative concept of loyal journalism,
which uses anticommunist rhetoric, is modeled on the Leninist theory of
the press according to which the journalist community is "the architect
of the soul" and a "collective agitator and propagandist".(73)
Why is the concept of loyal journalism contestable? Firstly, it is based
on the idea that the press and media must reflect the views of the voters
as expressed at the last legislative elections, i.e. just as the mandates
in Parliament represent them. However, this point is mistaken in a democratic
system. Democracies are distinguished from dictatorial systems by the
very fact that governments change. For this reason, the press and media
should reflect the current views of the electorate rather than their opinions
as expressed at the last elections. This is how the newspapers and media
enable the voters to evaluate the work of the government, and to dismiss
it if they think it is necessary to do so.
Secondly, the concept of loyal journalism suggests that some elements
of the government's policy are beyond public scrutiny. In other words,
it implies a restricted public sphere; the limits of this public sphere
are designated by the government. It is in this sprit that the government
decided not to register the minutes of ministerial meetings, that the
police treated some investigative journalists as criminals, and that József
Torgyán had incriminating videotape seized. If, however, the public sphere
is restricted, the press and media cannot be good watchdogs of democracy.
Only an unrestricted public sphere with no taboos will enable the political
institutions and elites to correct their mistakes (which obviously does
not imply that the press and media need not respect legal limits such
as state secrets).
Furthermore, the concept of loyal journalism is problematic because it
suggests that the press and the media should convince the people that
they should be loyal to the government rather than enable them to construct
political identities for themselves. This policy treats the public like
minors unable to make decisions for themselves. It ignores the fact that
in a democracy the ultimate political power lies with the electorate,
not the government, and is thus contradicts the liberal concept of press
The concept of loyal journalism is equally harmful to the journalism community.
It does not demand that journalists deliberate on how they select and
present news. It wants them to transmit what has been pre-selected and
predigested for them by the government's PR departments. Journalists are
also treated as minors.
4. The anti-journalist rhetoric of
As already mentioned, the leading politicians
of the right/conservative parties-namely Sándor Pintér, László Kövér,
István Csurka, László Csúcs and József Torgyán-denounced the journalistic
community repeatedly in the period under investigation. A common point
in all of these declarations was that they all accused the press, or at
least the left/liberal mainstream press, of bias. They claimed that journalists
do not proffer impartial and objective news coverage but serve particular
interests, namely those of the underworld, communists, foreigners or liberals.
Rather than using rational arguments to contest the allegations of the
press and media, these politicians sought to question their moral and
professional integrity. By so doing, they also questioned the legitimacy
of journalists criticizing those in power. In other words, these declarations
aim to stigmatize the media, and imply, more or less overtly, that journalists
tend to lie and falsify facts. Somewhat paradoxically, however, they were
reported to the public by the very same press and media that they accused.
Similar motivations can be detected behind other moves from the government
administration. The police investigations of the newsrooms of Kriminális
and Világgazdaság, the registration of journalist Attila Varga's fingerprints,
and the expansion of lustration to leading journalists imply to the public
that many journalists are criminals and that journalistic questions need
to be settled by the police and the courts. Such moves, although aimed
at particular journalists, question the integrity of the whole community.
In other words, these moves criminalize the journalistic community.
The stigmatization and criminalization of the journalistic community make
it all the more possible that such declarations and acts can build successfully
on the poor professional performance of the journalistic community and
on the existing views of the audiences. As a recent empirical study by
Szonda Ipsos has shown, only 3-6 per cent of the population think that
reports on television and in the daily papers are completely truthfully,
while an additional 42-44 per cent say they report more or less truthfully
(although an additional 27 to 28 per cent say it depends on the medium).
Likewise, only 4 per cent of the adult population trust journalists completely,
and an additional 40 per cent more or less trust them; at the same time,
a total of 50 per cent distrusted them to a lesser or greater extent.
In short, those who distrusted journalists outnumbered those who trusted
The relatively low social prestige of journalists is a warning sign for
the journalistic community. Press freedom is best protected by high social
prestige. No political force would dare to limit the freedom of a press
that is popular with its audiences.
5. Media policy proposals
of press freedom in Hungary are partly explained by the structural imperfections
of the press and media markets, such as the inequality between mainstream
and marginal newspapers and media, and partly by political attempts to
hinder journalistic work. The policy proposals below are unusual in that
they are meant to eliminate both market and governmental pressure on the
press and media. For this reason, there is no expectation that the current
power administration will consider them. Therefore most of these policy
proposals are designed for future governments that advocate a more liberal
media policy; the rest of them should be considered by non-governmental
5.1. A Press and Broadcasting Fund
The 1996 Broadcasting Act has established a
Broadcasting Fund that supports non-commercial broadcast media. The current
practice is that it chiefly promotes the creation of programs promoting
values traditionally associated with public service broadcasting, but
this practice is debatable. These values, it is usually argued, are those
of the elite and are in this sense undemocratic (cf. Negrine 1994: 85).
Moreover, it is unclear why a local public affairs-oriented television
station should meet the criteria associated with traditional public service
broadcasting such as 'quality programming'. Or why an anarchist, feminist,
gay, gypsy or Krishna radio station should meet such criteria of public
service broadcasting as internal pluralism and impartiality.(75)
In contrast with the practice of the ideas underlying the current, conservative,
media policy, the liberal approach would argue that media policy needs
to be based on value-neutral principles. It should create equal opportunities
for all competitors on the press and media markets in order to enrich
supply and to enable citizens to make their own choices. All contents,
the views and interests of all segments of society should be given an
equal chance to get through to the public, regardless of their actual
Accordingly, my policy proposal is that the amount of grants distributed
by the Broadcasting Fund be independent of broadcasting content, and depend
on the economic situation-financial background and prospective reach-of
the broadcasters. Those working in small, weak markets and without sufficient
resources should be financially supported by the state for as long as
they apply for support, meet formal application criteria, do not offend
constitutional values, and are able to cover a part of their operating
costs. (National broadcasters, because they reach large audiences and
are thus financially viable, would not get such support.)
Although there is a Broadcasting Fund to compensate for the structural
inequalities of the media market, there is no Press Fund that could counter
those of the local newspaper markets. It seems advisable to reform the
current Broadcasting Fund in such a way that it could help loss-making
newspapers too. Since the establishment of the national commercial televisions
in 1997, a substantial part of the overall advertising revenues available
for the actors in the press market has been withdrawn and redirected to
the broadcast media. It would be up to the reformed Broadcasting Fund
to redistribute a part of the revenues from the commercial broadcast media
to the print press. Concentration has already began on the newspaper market;
the future may bring about further concentration and, as a result, supply
might radically diminish in years to come. Subsidies to the press should
not be based on pre-defined content criteria, since experience shows that
such criteria tend to be pro-government. In short, the current system
of subsidizing newspapers on an ad hoc basis and according to political
criteria should be abandoned altogether.
For this reason, the redistribution of advertising revenues to loss-making
newspapers should be based on the same conditions as in the case of the
broadcast media. Loss-making titles with a local or regional circulation
should be granted support insofar as they comply with the laws regulating
the press, do not offend constitutional values, apply for support, meet
formal application criteria, discuss current affairs (non-political publications
being a different matter), and can raise a substantial part of their costs
on their own.
5.2. Training courses
It was argued above that some financial support
should be granted to all loss-making non-national newspapers and media.
However, too much support can be counter-productive. The newspapers, television
channels and radio stations with a constant amount of financial support
might ignore both professional standards and the demands of their audiences.
If fully independent, they could abuse state support without meeting the
functions of a free press and media.
For this reason, financial support should be coupled with training courses
for journalists from the marginal press and media. These courses ought
to include both professional training and the improvement of managerial
skills in order to make unsuccessful local journalists and editorial boards
more competitive, and help them integrate into the market.
It is not a necessary condition for the success of these training courses
that they be run by accredited institutions of journalism such as university
departments. Such institutions tend to be professionally conservative
and train journalists for the national media and press. Small journalism
workshops run by non-governmental organizations and inviting reputable
journalists from the local press might be more familiar with the needs
of the local media and press. These workshops could provide an education
that is less bound by the traditional norms of journalism than are accredited
schools, and promote experience and renewal of journalistic forms of expression.
For this reason, training courses should be funded through open tenders
to which any accredited institution or specialized NGO might apply, and
which would be supervised by a body that gathers together leading journalists,
independent of the political parties. The costs of the training courses
should be covered by the reformed Broadcasting Fund.
5.3. A freedom of information ombudsperson
It has been pointed out that some members of
the political elite do not answer the press and media and, in more general
terms, the government administration tends to classify information of
public interest. In order to ease journalists' access to such information,
a 'freedom of information ombudsperson' should be nominated in the major
public institutions such as the ministries and city councils. It would
be his or her job to transmit the journalists' requests for information
to the responsible official, and to make sure that they receive the information
5.4. Improving public service media
Currently, the major problem for the public
service media lies in their weak financing. For as long as they depend
financially on Parliament's majority, there is no hope for political independence.
The reform of the public service media must begin with the reform of its
Currently there are three channels of public service television, including
m1 (terrestrial), m2 (satellite) and Duna Televízió (satellite). All three
channels broadcast traditional public service programs, while at the same
time seek advertisements. The result is high costs, low audience rates
and low levels of advertisement revenue. If, however, there were only
two channels that divided responsibilities, things would change. Firstly,
costs could be reduced: the operation costs of the third channel (whichever
it was) would disappear. Secondly, one of the remaining channels could
specialize in traditional public service programs (classical culture and
'quality programming', documentaries, political information programs,
children's programming, etc.), while the other specialized in commercial
broadcasting (feature films, quiz shows, popular music, etc.): such a
division of labor would clarify their profiles and help them find their
target audiences. The channel that specialized in public service broadcasting
could also carry the current duties of channel that would disappear, because
it would gain time by not transmitting commercial programs. Thirdly, this
change would increase the financial independence of the public service
media: the first channel that would no longer be forced to broadcast advertisements,
could be cross-financed from the revenues of the second. Such far-reaching
changes obviously demand the modification of the current Broadcasting
Act and the wisdom of the parliamentary parties to allow the public service
media to become politically independent. Also, the current distribution
of frequencies would need to be changed; the remaining two channels would
both be available terrestrially (so that the whole domestic population
could access it) and via satellite (so that the Hungarian national minorities
living in the neighboring countries could reach it). The decrease in operating
costs and the increase in revenues would seem to suffice to cover the
expenses that the use of new frequencies would involve.
The current practice of subscription fees should also be reconsidered.
Currently, all households, rich and poor, pay the same subscription fee
regardless of their income. The amount of the fee should be progressive
relating to the income of the families, meeting the principle of equal
burdens. This change would also improve the legitimacy of public service
broadcasting: people would not pay for it as a commodity that they 'buy',
but rather would support it as a service that they do not necessarily
use but is a prerequisite for the public good.
The current system of supervision should also be reconsidered. Currently,
the boards of trustees of public service media mix corporate and parliamentary
representation. As a result, trustees are too numerous and responsibility
is blurred. Were the boards to be based on either corporate or parliamentary
representation, the number of trustees would decrease and the transparency
of the system would improve.
5.5. Press Freedom Watch Office
For political efforts hindering press
freedom to be fought efficiently, the issue of press freedom needs to
be kept permanently on the public agenda. This could be best achieved
by a Press Freedom Watch Office. This NGO could also promote communication
among the various professional organizations, as well as to collect and
disseminate information on the state of press freedom through an online
service. The instruments the Press Freedom Watch Office could use to reach
its objectives are as follows:
ˇ A webpage including a databank on current issues pertaining to press
freedom, links to the webpages of similar organizations, a list of references
to other sources (books, articles, conferences, etc.), as well as a chatroom
where remarks on related issues could be publicized and accessed.
- Offer a free-of-charge legal consulting service
for journalists prosecuted for alleged violations of regulations concerning
privacy, bank confidentiality, etc.
- Financially support research and publications
on press freedom.
The organization would need to be financed
from resources independent of both government and media owners. For this
reason, the office would needs to rely on support from independent foundations
such as the Soros Foundation, the Hungarian Free Press Foundation, the
Ford Foundation, etc.
5.6. Transparency of ownership
As pointed out earlier, press freedom is
best protected by the high social prestige of the journalistic community.
One way to improve their prestige is to make the ownership structure of
the Hungarian print press transparent. In some Western European countries,
for example Italy, this is prescribed by law (Sartori 1996: 140). Were
the audience to be aware of who pays a particular journalist, his or her
credibility would increase because interest alliances as yet unknown to
the public would be revealed.
6. Alternatives to policy proposals
In order to asses what would happens if
these policy measures were not implemented, and if the Hungarian government
were to continue to exert pressure on the press and media, at least three
factors determining the future of the Hungarian press and media need to
be considered. Firstly, most of the newspapers, radio stations and television
channels are privately owned. Secondly, modern communication technologies,
including the Internet, are present in Hungary, consequently the Hungarian
press and media landscape is now adequately diverse. Both the ownership
structure of the press and media and the technological conditions are
such that direct political control over the whole of the press and media
is practically impossible. Thirdly, the events of the past few years suggest
that the more radical the government's media policy, the more radical
the reaction of society. It follows that the continuation or further radicalization
of the current media policies, might actually do more harm than good to
the government. Even if the recommendations above are ignored, the worsening
of the situation seems unlikely.
At the same time, the policy measures recommended in this paper could
improve the professional and legal working conditions of the journalistic
community. They could enhance the role of civic organizations in protecting
press freedom. They could make the press and media better educators of
the citizens and better watchdogs of democracy.
(1) According to László Gy. Tóth, advisor to
the prime minister, "In 1998, Hungary had had for the first time
in its history a modern, progressive and center-right government that
[...] was ready to break away from the forces of the past, and to conflict
openly with the post-communist/socialist forces and their liberal allies.
The slogan 'More than a government change, less than a regime change'
expresses the depth and reach of the changes envisioned by Fidesz-MPP"
(Tóth 1999: 298).
(2) Fidesz-MPP stands for Fidesz-Hungarian Civic Party. The coalition
of the period 1998-2002 included two further right/conservative parties,
the Independent Smallholders Party and the Hungarian Democratic Forum.
The left/liberal coalition dismissed in 1998 comprised the Hungarian Socialist
Party and the Free Democrats Association. The words 'liberal' and 'conservative'
have slightly different meanings in the Hungarian context than they do
in a Western European or North American context. By and large, 'liberal'
in Hungary means libertarian and pro-market, and 'conservative' means
authoritarian and pro-state.
(3) The 'press' will be defined to include all periodicals published at
least once annually, while 'media' refers to radio and television. In
order to limit the scope of this study, I will not address other means
of mass communication such as books, video films, cinema, CDs and the
(4) The term 'media war' originally refers to the events and ideological
debates of the early 1990s when the then ruling right/conservative government's
efforts to gain control over the press and media were highly contested
by a part of the journalistic community and the then opposition parties.
For more on this 'war', see Sükösd (2000:152-157).
(5) Hungary had 19 counties, each of them having one daily county newspaper
with no competitors.
(6) The term 'media policy' is used here in the wider sense, i.e. including,
besides concrete media policy measures, the general strategy and attitude
of the government towards the press and media.
(7) For example see the papers of liberal media policy maker Miklós Haraszti
(1999) and socialist media policy maker Gábor Gellért Kis (2000).
(8) For a detailed description of the protest see later.
(9) I would like to thank Jankovic Gordana (Open Society Institute), Miklós
Gyorffy (Kodolányi University College), Miklós Sükösd (Central European
University) and Ildikó Szabó (University College of Kecskemét) for their
valuable comments on the earlier drafts of this paper. A more detailed
version of this paper has been published in Hungarian in my book (Bajomi-Lázár
2001). The manuscript was closed in December 2001.
(10) At the same time, there are limits to press freedom. Some kinds of
information are protected by law even in established democracies. These
may include state secrets (that is, classified information regarding national
security), bank confidentiality, the symbols of the nation (such as the
national anthem and colors), and privacy. Some special forms of speech
(e.g., libel and incitement to hatred) may also rank with this category
(Darbishire 1997:72-83; Kovács & Cseh 1998:327-335). Because these
restrictions are widely accepted in most of the Western democratic countries,
similar limits to press freedom in Hungary will be regarded as natural.
(11) I.e. the above definition of press freedom does not imply that all
views should be represented in each and every medium.
(12) For the historical development and criticisms of the concept, as
well as for the limits of press freedom see Humphreys (1996:18-65), Hutchison
(1999:69-86), and McNair (1998: 84-85).
(13) The terms 'right/conservative' and 'left/liberal' are used here to
refer to the way the general public perceives certain newspapers, radio
stations and television channels. These labels do not necessarily coincide
with how these organs define themselves, for most of them claim to be
(14) For example, the commercial revenues of the right/conservative daily
Napi Magyarország displayed a four-fold growth in less than a year. In
May 1998, the newspaper earned HUF 15 million, in December, same year,
HUF 60 million (Vásárhelyi 1999a).
(15) Népszabadság, 1998, September 28.
(16) Népszabadság, 1998, October 1 and 10. Later on MaNcs regains its
(17) Népszabadság, 1998, September 29, October 6 and 8.
(18) Népszabadság, 1998, October 8 and November 28.
(19) The members of the executive committee are the nominees of the political
parties, whereas the ordinary members of the board are delegated by various
nongovernmental organizations. The powers of the ordinary members are
much more restricted.
(20) 1996. I. Law on Radio and Television. § 55. (4): "The Parliament
shall elect, in separate procedures, at least eight trustees into each
of the three boards with a simple majority of the votes of the deputies."
§ 55. (5): "Half of the trustees shall be appointed by the government
groups, while the other half by the opposition groups, however at least
one nominee of each group must be elected."
(21) Népszabadság, 1999, February 18, May 17, May 18, June 30, October
29, November 25.
(22) At the same time, the Ombudsman points out that the newspaper has
breached the privacy of the persons featuring in the documents. Népszabadság,
1999, June 4, November 23 and December 11; Népszava, 1999. July 29 and
(23) The bill was introduced by and named after Béla Pokol, media policy
maker of the Independent Smallholders Party. Népszabadság, 1999, June
(24) Népszava, 1999, August 23 and 2000, February 8; Népszabadság, 2000,
January 18; Élet és Irodalom, 2000. January 28 and April 14.
(25) Népszava, 1999, September 3. See also the Constitutional Court's
decision no. 36/1994 (VI. 24).
(26) Magyar Narancs, 1999, September 23.
(27) See Népszabadság, 2000, October 30.
(28) Élet és Irodalom, 2000, May 5.
(29) Magyar Narancs, 1999, September 23.
(30) Népszabadság, 1999, December 15.
(31) Népszabadság, 2000, January 17 and January 29.
(32) Népszava, 2000, February 22.
(33) For the official view of the Attorney General, see HVG, 2000, February
12; Népszava, 2000, February 4, and March 22.
(34) According to several sources, the application of the Western radio
companies was professionally lacking.
(35) See the arguments of Ildikó Lendvai (MSZP) and Bálint Magyar (SZDSZ)
in Népszabadság, February 28, 2000.
(36) Népszava, 2000, February 12, March 8, May 25, June 23 and 27, July
31, and August 30.
(37) Népszabadság, 2000, July 21 and 22; Népszava, July 23, 24 and 25,
(38) The Board of Trustees consists of the appointees of the parliamentary
parties who form an executive committee, and the ordinary members who
are delegated by various civic and religious organizations and have limited
powers in comparison with the members of the executive body.
(39) E.g. Népszabadság, 2000, July 28. See also former socialist head
of the board Péter Agárdi (2000).
(40) Népszabadság, 2000, November 27, Népszava, 2000, August 25, September
21 and 29, November 10, 13, 22, 23, 24, 27 and 28, December 21 and 22,
Magyar Narancs, 2000, August 31, Magyar Demokrata, 2000/35.
(41) The Ministry of Defense is run by this party. The editor-in-chief
of Kis Újság is József Torgyán, head of the party. The money was allocated
to the newspaper via Arculat Ltd., a one-person-company of the Smallholders
Party. Népszava 2000, October 4 and 5.
(42) Népszava, 2000, November 23 and 30.
(43) Népszava, 2000, September 30; 168 Óra, 2000, December 7.
(44) Magyar Narancs, 2000, October 19; Élet és Irodalom, 2000, October
(45) Népszava, 2000, October 16, December 11.
(46) E.g. Uj Péter (2000).
(47) Including the now major coalition force Fidesz-MPP.
(48) For example, "Hát a som nem kéne?" (MaNcs, Editorial, 1999.
Augusztus 26.); H. Bíró, László, editor-in-chief: "Csendor az újságnál"
[Gendarme in the newsroom] (Népszava, 1999. September 3.).
(49) See the drawings of Gábor Pápai and László Quitt in Népszava, 1999.
September 20, February 12 and May 24., and those of István Lehoczki and
Tibor Kaján in Népszabadság, 1999. November 25, December 4.
(50) For example, in November 1999 Népszabadság reported on a critical
article published in the Financial Times. In March 2000, Népszava covered
two articles published in Neue Zürcher Zeitung and in Der Standard.
(51) See for example Népszabadság, 1999. November 30.
(52) Népszabadság, September 17, 1998.
(53) E.g., in June 1999 Népszabadság interviewed Albert Scharf (European
Broadcasting Union) who contested the Hungarian government's policy on
public service television, in March 2000 it quoted Aiden White (International
Federation of Journalists) who denounced the Orbán government's policy
on the public service media. In March 2000 Népszava reported on the highly
critical annual report of the International Press Institute.
(54) For example, it denounced the Lex Pokol, and called on the Parliament
to launch an investigation against Torgyán after the videotape scandal.
(55) Népszava, 1999, August 26 and September 4; Népszabadság, 1998, September
12, 1999, March 20, and 2000, January 27; Élet és Irodalom, 1999, March
26. The list of protests could be continued ad infinitum. For example,
the editors-in-chief of various newspapers, including that of the right/conservative
daily Napi Magyarország, issued a joint declaration denouncing the police
search in the newsrooms of Világgazdaság.
(56) For example, in September 1999 a variety of grassroots initiatives,
including the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, the Habeas Corpus Workgroup,
and the Publicness Club protested against the classification of the minutes
of the ministers' sessions; in March 2000 a fund was created under the
name Pannon Media Foundation whose mission was to support television journalists
who had lost their job, etc.. Népszava, 2000, March 8, Élet és Irodalom,
1999, September 24, November 26, December 10, 2000, June 2, 16 and 23.
(57) Népszava, 1999, August 25, September 24, 2000, March 3, 6, 10, 14
and 16; Népszabadság, 2000, March 16; Élet és Irodalom, 1999, September
3 and 24, October 1, November 5 and 26, December 10.
(58) Népszabadság, 2000, July 28.
(59) The list of political protests could be continued. For example, the
Free Press Foundation established by the Hungarian Socialist Party awarded
prizes to independent journalists on March 15, 2000 in Pilvax Café where
the Revolution of 1848 had began. Népszava, 2000, March 6 and 13, and
Népszabadság, 2000, October 28, 1999 and March 16. Népszabadság, 1999,
February 18, April 17, May 17 and 18, October 29.
(60) E.g. Népszava, 2000, March 7.
(61) Népszabadság, 2000, March 16, 18 and 22, Népszava, 2000, March 9,
20, April 12 and 14. See also Lake (2001).
(62) The next summer, however, the new Board voted Kondor for president.
(63) Népszabadság, 1998, September 28.
(64) See for example the speech of István Stumpf, minister of the Prime
Minister's Office, quoted in Népszabadság, 1998. December 7.
(65) E.g. the debate held at Kossuth Klub on June 9, 1999, and the following
articles: Kaposi (1999), Vásárhelyi, Mária (1999b) and Papp (2000).
(66) 70/A §.
(67) As already mentioned, this idea has been put into practice: despite
their low circulation, such titles as Napi Magyarország and Magyar Nemzet
were granted important advertisement revenues by government offices as
well as state-owned banks and companies.
(68) This idea was presented by István Lovas, a leading journalist of
the extreme-right (and loss-making) weekly Magyar Demokrata in a debate
at Kossuth Klub on June 9, 1999. The journalist presented the same idea
at a media conference on "Media and system change", Budapest,
March 25, 2000 (Népszabadság, 2000. March 27.) A similar idea has been
proposed by István Elek (1999: 185-186).
(69) This scenario has been put forward in a bill introduced by the FKgP.
(70) The French system, for example, grants financial support to both
the Catholic La Croix-L'Événement and the communist L'Humanité (Palmer
& Sorbets 1997:62).
(71) Cf. Kaposi (2000).
(72) See the interview with Kondor in HVG, 2000, August 25.
(73) Cf. "The role of the newspaper [...] is not limited to the dissemination
of ideas, to political education, and to the enlistment of political allies.
A newspaper is not only a collective propagandist and a collective agitator,
it is also a collective organizer." (Vladimir Ilyich Lenin: "Where
to Begin?" quoted in Sparks 1998:45-46).
(74) For more on this, see Bajomi-Lázár & Bajomi-Lázár (2001).
(75) This question is hypothetical to the extent that no such radio stations
exist in Hungary. But it is realistic in that it would be the task of
the Broadcasting Fund to enable such minorities to run a radio station
of their own.
(76) For the Canadian practice, see Majtényi (1997: 23-24).
Agárdi, Péter (2000): Végjáték a Magyar Rádióban
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A közvélemény a magyar sajtóról...
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Bajomi-Lázár, Péter (Budapest, 1969) Associate
professor at the Department of Communication of Kodolányi University College,
Székesfehérvár (Hungary), editor-in-chief of the Hungarian media studies
quarterly Médiakutató, member of the Executive Board of the Hungarian
Press Freedom Center, Ph.D. student at the Political Science Department
of the Central European University. Major works: Media & Politics
(co-edited with István Hegedűs, Budapest: Új Mandátum, 2001); A magyarországi
médiaháború (The Hungarian Media War, Budapest: Új Mandátum, 2001); Közszolgálati
rádiózás Nyugat-Európában (Public Service Radio in Western Europe, Budapest:
Új Mandátum, 2000). Email: email@example.com
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