Fidesz recommends banning political billboards outside campaign periods

June 8, 2017

MTI Photo: Máthé Zoltán

Fidesz is recommending that neither the government nor political parties be permitted to use political outdoor advertising except during election campaigning periods, Fidesz deputy prime minister Gergely Gulyás said at a press conference.

Gulyás called attention to a current billboard campaign launched by far-right party Jobbik, which overtly accuses prominent Fidesz members (including Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his propaganda minister Antal Rogán) of corruption. The Fidesz politician alleged that Jobbik’s campaign makes it obvious the party is working together with oligarch-in-exile and Fidesz’s former money man, Lajos Simicska.

The bill, proposed by Fidesz delegation spokesman János Halász, would prevent the kind of corruption made evident by Jobbik’s political ad campaign, Gulyás said, and would cut down on shady party financing and make campaign financing more transparent. Whoever votes for the bill is standing up against corruption, the Fidesz member claimed without irony.

The presence of such a widespread billboard propaganda campaign as Jobbik’s , which threatens to counter the constant propagandizing orchestrated by Fidesz but disguised as messages delivered straight from “the government”, appears to have prompted the ruling party to seek an end to government-critical advertising outside campaign periods.

Should anyone get the wrong idea that Fidesz is attempting to limit the expression of critical political opinion, by way of assurance Gulyás called the move “self-restraint” on the part of the Fidesz-KDNP ruling coalition.

But such “self-restraint” has long been in short supply in the government when it comes to conducting billboard campaigns. One of the favorite tools of the government, billions of forints are spent every year (typically in contracts awarded to Fidesz-friendly media oligarchs) to cover the country in explicitly political advertising. These messages are often to urge support in the newest round of National Consultations, or to stir up anger and hatred in the case of the shamelessly xenophobic anti-immigrant campaign launched just before the beginning of the refugee crisis.

Although the Fidesz-proposed bill would limit the government’s use of political billboard advertising outside campaign season, it is unclear whether such campaigns as the aforementioned would be considered “political.” It could be that the bill would simply prohibit parties from using political speech on billboards outside of certain times, and continue to allow Fidesz to use state funds to push its agenda as it hides behind the cynical by-line of “the government.”