Government-aligned media pushes alleged popularity of Hungary’s Russia policy

February 2, 2017

As Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives in Hungary today for talks with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, pro-government media outlets are attempting to garner support so that Orbán’s policies toward Russia and his friendly relationship with Putin are accepted and popular choices among the Hungarian public.

Fidesz think-tank Századvég published a study on the attitudes of Hungarians toward Putin and the Russia policy that has since been widely circulated in the pro-government Hungarian media, according to which 75 percent of respondents said Hungary needs a “balanced and mutually advantageous” policy when it comes to Russia, while 18 percent believe that Hungary should form a friendly relationship with Russia.

Századvég also published a poll on the popularity among Hungarians of three foreign leaders: Putin, American President Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Of the three, Putin was deemed most popular: 35 percent view the Russian leader favorably, and 44 percent unfavorably. Twenty percent have no opinion. Chancellor Merkel is seen favorably by 26 percent of respondents and negatively by 64 percent. Ten percent have no opinion of her.

State-owned media outlets have quoted the Századvég study as evidence of the popularity of Orbán’s approach to Russia.

A leading Századvég researcher, Árok Norbert, appeared on state-owned television channel M1 hours before Putin’s arrival in Budapest to announce that the majority of Hungarians support the government’s Russia policy.

State news agency MTI picked up the story, which was then published in Magyar Hírlap, pro-government daily Magyar Idők and the English-language, government-controlled site Hungary Today.

But Századvég was not the only government-connected institution presenting Russia-friendly statistics on the eve of Putin’s visit. According to a poll on European sanctions against Russia conducted by Nézőpont Institute and commissioned by Magyar Idők, 47 percent of Hungarians oppose sanctions and 33 are in favor.

As Putin and Orbán discuss a range of policy issues, from the Paks II nuclear power plant expansion deal to natural gas and the sanctions, state media outlets are working to both shape public opinion and convey the message that voters support Budapest’s friendly relationship with the Kremlin.