News broke this weekend that Olga Kálmán, host of ATV’s Egyenes Beszéd (Straight Talk) program, will be leaving the “opposition” television station to work at Hír TV, the television station owned by oligarch-in-exile Lajos Simicska. According to Index.hu, Kálmán announced her decision to leave ATV after the station’s Christmas party. Her decision reportedly was not financially motivated. Sources tell Index that Kálmán is scheduled to start airing her new program on Hír TV in mid-February. Hungarian Spectrum has written about the ATV-Olga Kálmán affair, but one very important player has chimed in since the article was published. Sándor Németh, founder of the Faith Church and de facto leader behind ATV, posted the following text on his Facebook page Monday afternoon:
“In and of itself, Olga Kálmán’s departure from ATV would not be an extraordinary event because it is common in the media business, here and abroad, for well-known hosts to switch channels. Olga Kálmán became a well-known media personality while at ATV, but it must also be said that her skills as a presenter played a role in the development and influence of the channel. There was never any personal conflict between Olga and the owners of the channel, not even considering their differing world views.
“There were two things that surprised the owners. First, [Olga] unilaterally violated a relationship based on mutual respect in a manner unbecoming of a person who has a significant public persona. This was humiliating for the employer who had given her the respect she deserved as a star for more than a decade. The second cause for surprise was that Olga Kálmán’s decision to contract with Hír TV – whether intentional or not – has turned her into a central figure as regards the vendetta between Simicska and his allies and [Prime Minister] Viktor Orbán. This reminds me of a famous saying by Solomon: ‘He who grabs a stray dog by the ears is someone who rushes into a quarrel not their own’.
“But this is something that neither the Faith Church nor ATV has anything to do with. As the events that transpired over the past few days have shown me: we stand in the way of the Simicska system’s right and left-wing maneuvering. I would like to inform Mr. Simicska that he has picked a hardened tree into which to sink his axe.”
Things to consider
While Sándor Németh, the Faith Church and its media hinterland would have viewers believe it is Simicska who is doing the “right and left-wing” maneuvering, the very same statement is equally applicable to ATV and the Faith Church.
Once considered Hungary’s only “opposition” television station, ATV has undergone an editorial transformation in recent years. Aside from its shows Egyenes Beszéd and Szabad Szemmel (Naked Eye), ATV’s editorial direction took an interesting turn during the refugee crisis. For example, the channel’s news website was caught red-handed manipulating a story about asylum seekers in Körmend, and the amount of “government informational advertisements” in its programming visibly increased.
Furthermore, in the months leading up to Hungary’s anti-EU refugee quota referendum on October 2, Sándor Németh came out in support of the referendum in a somewhat uncustomary display of Orbánesque rhetoric. Shortly after that, his son Szilárd, who is also ATV’s news chief, maintained that while the church has strong feelings on this issue, no deal was struck between Fidesz and the church on ATV’s editorial content or the Faith Church’s legal status. A few weeks later, Faith Church member, notable legal scholar and former Alliance of Free Democrats-Hungarian Liberal Party (SZDSZ) politician Péter Hack also announced he would vote “No” in the referendum. Then, just before October 2, Faith Church member and former SZDSZ politician István László Mészáros also announced his opposition to the anti-EU refugee quota and resigned from the Hungarian Helsinki Committee.
The very public manner in which prominent Faith Church members pledged their support to the government’s agenda took some by surprise, but also lent legitimacy to claims by Faith Church critics that the church was in cahoots with Fidesz.
The ultra-charismatic Faith Church was officially recognized by the Hungarian state following Hungary’s democratic transition in 1989. ATV’s non-news-related programming features shows about conspiracy theories and re-runs of Pat Robertson’s 700 Club.