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Press Freedom in Hungary
under the Orbán Government

Péter Bajomi-Lázár

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 organizations.(9)

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 selection.(12)

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 measures

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:

  • 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 László Majtényi.(22)
  • 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 opinions."(23)
  • 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 reviews.(27)
  • 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 withdrawn.(31)
  • 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.(37)
  • 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 public discourse.(44)
  • 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)
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.

2.2. The reception of the Orbán government's media policy

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 rejected.
  • 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 of democracy".

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."

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:
1.) The state reallocates the advertisements of state-run companies and banks to titles that are loyal to the government;(67) 2.) The state redistributes a part of the revenues of the commercially successful newspapers and media through a Press Fund to the commercially unsuccessful ones;(68) 3.) 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.

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.
(71) 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 conservative perspective:

"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".

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 freedom.

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 right/conservative politicians

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 them.(74)

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

The hardships 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 organizations.

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 contents.

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 they want.(76)

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 financial background.

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 Internet.

(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 'independent'.

(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 original title.

(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 August 7.

(23) The bill was introduced by and named after Béla Pokol, media policy maker of the Independent Smallholders Party. Népszabadság, 1999, June 9.

(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, September 14.

(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 27.

(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).



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Curriculum Vitae

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: mediak@mail.datanet.hu

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