Hungarian law supposedly prohibits campaigning more than 50 days before the October 2 referendum on whether Brussels should force Hungary to temporarily settle some 1,437 refugees without the approval of parliament. But this has not prevented the government from wallpapering the country in billboards enjoining citizens to “send a message Brussels will understand”. Nor has it prevented Hungarian state media from using its coverage of the Olympic Games to warn viewers of the dangers posed by “migrants” and “illegal immigrants” in the form of news segments and “public service announcements” equating immigration with terrorism.
Hungarian State Television’s coverage of the Olympic Games has featured a steady stream of government anti-immigrant propaganda encouraging viewers to vote “no” in the referendum on whether the European Union should be allowed to temporarily settle non-Hungarian citizens in Hungary without the consent of the Hungarian parliament.
Anti-immigrant propaganda has not been limited to public sport channel M4’s coverage of the Rio games. As Budapest Beacon journalist Péter Szegő details below, since the start of the Olympic Games M1 evening news has been running news segments of varying lengths on anything and everything having to do with immigration and terrorism, with the apparent objective of building support for the government’s xenophobic policies.
“Did you know?”
The “Did you know?” series of public service announcements features misleading statements such as “Immigrants committed the terrorist attacks on Paris,” “One million immigrants want to come to the Europe from Libya” and “Brussels wants to settle a city’s worth of illegal immigrants in Hungary.”
The declared purpose of the campaign is to encourage viewers to participate in the October referendum (especially voters who share the government’s view that those fleeing war and overcrowded refugee camps in search of a better life are “economic migrants” and “terrorists”).
(Cynics claim the real purpose of the campaign is to transfer billions of public funds to Árpád Habony, Andy Vajna and other Fidesz oligarchs tasked by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán with building a new, pro-government media empire to replace that of building and media magnate Lájos Simicska, with whom the prime minister had a spectacular falling out at the beginning of 2015.)
In order for the referendum to be valid, over 50 percent of qualified voters must participate nationwide—no small task given Hungary’s low rates of voter participation.
The government is spending a reported HUF 5.2 billion (USD 18 million) on advertising to ensure that as many Hungarians as possible go to the polls and vote “no”.
Jobbik tells its supporters to vote “no”
The government is being aided by radical right-wing Jobbik, whose chairman, Gábor Vona, has called on his party’s 1.5 million supporters to vote “no”.
Vona has called on Orbán to resign if the referendum fails to yield the hoped-for result.
Political opposition leaders are calling for a boycott of the referendum. The Hungarian Socialist Party and its offshoot, the Democratic Coalition under former Socialist prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsány, announced yesterday plans to jointly campaign against the referendum, encouraging their supporters to stay home on October 2.
Excerpt’s from Péter Szegő’s media diary
M1, 8 August 2016, 7:30 pm
The second lead news item:
“They did not condemn as a murderer the migrant who stabbed a woman in the head in Sweden. They say he is psychologically ill.”
After reporting on President János Áder’s meeting with members of the International Olympic Committee and on the stellar performance of the Hungarian economy featuring an “expert” from Fidesz think-tank Századvég, at 7:51 pm the following information regarding the October 2 referendum was reported:
“The Post Office has started delivering formal notifications about the October referendum. Together with those voting abroad nearly 8 million voters will receive the document in the days to come. All the notifications will be delivered by August 15th.”
Following that, the following text scrolled across the bottom of the screen:
“More than 8 million notices about the referendum are being sealed in envelopes at the capital city press. The letters, which are sealed in boxes, are already being delivered to the post office for immediate delivery. The paper contained in the envelope contains the most important information about the election – said the chairman of the National Election Office during the M1 news report.”
Following that, the news featured statements by National Election Office (NVI) chairman Ilona Pálffy about the referendum, followed by statements by individual politicians from Jobbik, Politics Can Be Different (LMP), the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) and Fidesz.
At 7:54 pm M1 reported the following:
“Some 500 illegal immigrants are waiting at the transit area between Horgos and Röszke. . . . they are preparing food for themselves because they are not satisfied with their service.”
“Are migrants still throwing away the food they receive?” asked the anchorman, to which the correspondent at the border responded that the migrants are trading with locals. According to him, while the “migrants” are extraordinarily dissatisfied with their situation, they are not demonstrating over this because they are afraid it will decrease their chances of being admitted to Hungary.
At 7:57 pm M1 reported that Swedish authorities were deporting the Ethiopian who committed a murder in January this year.
“The body (sic) believes the man cannot be held accountable for his actions, for this reason he must undergo psychiatric treatment until his deportation. The judgement is causing serious outrage because the perpetrator was not charged with murder. Many believe that with this the Swedish government has acknowledged that it is incapable of singling out who it admits to the country.”
According to the report, the perpetrator, who killed a 22-year-old volunteer at a refugee reception center “was initially charged with murder, but the charge was then changed to serious bodily assault.” It was also reported that “the Swedish media blames the erroneous immigration policies of the government, since in the absence of health examinations it is not possible to know how many mentally ill people have arrived to the Scandinavian country who are a danger to themselves or the public.”
This report was followed at 7:59 pm with a related report:
“In Malmö, a police car rounded up people in one of the quarters where immigrants live.”
This, in turn, was followed with news that two professors at the American university in Kabul were robbed at gunpoint.
“Public safety in Kabul has deteriorated greatly in recent times. The target of armed criminals these days tends to be foreigners rather than domestic politicians.”
And thus concluded the 7:30 pm news.
But it didn’t end there.
The 8 o’clock news opened with a report about a terrorist bombing in Pakistan which killed 70 people. “The assembled would have accompanied the chairman of the local chamber of lawyers on his final journey who was killed by an unknown armed assailant shortly beforehand,” said the voice.
In the interest of making it clear that Hungarians, too, are at risk of imminent terrorist attack, M1 reported at 8:02 pm that “the terror attacks of the past few months have resulted in heightened security preparations at the Sziget (music festival) as well.”
A report on environmental pollution and the Earth’s energy reserves concluded with the statement “Problems are caused throughout the world by water shortages, for example, which is one of the causes of migration.”
The promised report on security measures at the Sziget festival started at 8:2o pm.
“Due to the terrorist attacks of the past few months, the organizers have introduced heightened security arrangements. Nearly 1,500 people will attend to the security of the participants. This year the control will be more strict . . . The security personnel will carefully look through everything. Those attending the festival from abroad say the control is thorough but quick and does not cause delays. Entry has been made more strict because of the terror attacks happening in the world.”
It then featured Sziget Kft. director Károly Gerendai telling M1
“Now we would also like to know specifically who is entering since in this way we can also compare people`s information with the help of the appropriate authorities to a list so that somebody whose name appears on an international list of fugitives cannot enter.”
The following scrolling text appeared at the bottom of the screen during the next report (on a completely unrelated subject):
“30 civilians lost their lives in Yemen when a market was bombed in a military operation executed by Saudi Arabia in the Middle-East country in which battles have been raging.”
In summary, the hour-long news program, the first and final part of which was devoted to news relating to the Olympics, featured 19 reports of which eight were on the subject of terrorism and the Middle-East.
M1, 9 August 2016, 7:30 pm
“Human smugglers are being uncovered one after another. In under one day illegally transported migrants were found in multiple places,” announced the introductory segment of the evening news.
During a report on the reaction to the Olympic success of swimmer Katinka Hosszú in her home town of Baja, in southern Hungary, the following text scrolled along the bottom of the screen:
“A 31-year-old man in France was sentenced to two years in jail for repeatedly visiting websites spreading extremist viewpoints. The man is accused of searching for websites that praise various attacks and watching videos of various beheadings.”
An interview with Balázs Fürjes, the chairman of the 2024 Budapest Olympic Committee, featured the following rolling script along the bottom of the page:
“Two Syrian citizens were found in the back of a truck driven by a man who is a citizen of Macedonia at Röszke. Police are charging the driver with human smuggling.”
This was followed by a short interview with Hungarian Olympic Committee chairman Zsolt Borkai (who also happens to be the Fidesz mayor of Győr) under which the following scrolling text appeared:
“Tolna county police have arrested a Ukrainian man on the M6 motorway on suspicion of human smuggling who was transporting 30 foreigners without valid travel documents.”
An interview with President János Áder in Rio de Janeiro followed along with the following rolling script:
“A man suspected of being one of the leaders of the Islamic State was arrested in Germany on suspicion of terrorism. In Germany more and more people seeking entry to the country are being turned away at the border by federal police, and the numbers being deported is also increasing. During the first half of 2016 13,324 people were denied entry at the border or at airports, which amounts to a 50 percent increase over the 8913 to register over the course of last year. In Germany 500 people daily continue to request asylum according to records. Ankara will suspend the execution of the EU-Turkish agreement on refugees intended to halt the migration towards the West if the EU does not inform Turkey of the date from which Turkish citizens will no longer require a visa to travel to the European Union, says the Turkish minister responsible for European affairs.”
Minutes later, the following rolling script appeared on the screen:
“More than 260,000 refugees and migrants reached Europe this year. The number of those losing their lives while crossing the Mediterranean exceeds 3100 people, announced the International Migration Agency.”
The text was repeated at 7:47 pm while newscasters summarized Hungary’s performance at the Rio games.
At 7:51 pm the following text appeared on the screen:
“Viktor Orbán wants to discuss the migration crisis with Slovak head of government Robert Fico and Czech president Zeman.”
A report airing at 7:53 pm about the meeting in Saint Petersburg between Russia and Turkey featured the following analysis:
“And now let’s see what is happening in Moscow (sic). Why is the meeting between Erdoğan and Putin so important apart from the situation in Syria, the migration crisis, and the failed Turkish coup?”
The report was accompanied with scrolling text which appeared earlier about the arrest in Germany of a suspected terrorist.
At 7:58 pm it was announced:
“Meanwhile people continue to arrive to Hungary’s southern border along the Balkan corridor. There are more and more migrants at the Subotika reception center. Nearly 500 are awaiting entry to Hungary. At Kelebia and Horgos more than 700 are waiting. The illegal immigrants are complaining about the monotony of the food they receive.”
We then learned from the report prepared on the Serbian border about the event that was the subject of an earlier scrolling text: a Macedonian human smuggler was arrested. Among other things, we learn that there are 67 people before the Szeged court and 45 people before the Kecskemét court suspected of human smuggling, and that this is punishable by up to 8 years in prison.
The 8 pm news opened with the story about the arrest of the Ukrainian and Macedonian human smugglers.
At 8:01 pm another report from the Serbian border about how migrants are disrespecting the food they receive at the reception center and exchanging it at the outdoor Subotica market, followed by a report from Horgos. Meanwhile at 8:04 pm at the bottom of the screen the rolling text repeats the news linking terrorism with immigration in France and Germany for the third time.
Then the newscaster reports that
“‘If the left-wing parties want to settle immigrants, then they should owe up to their opinions, said KDNP MP István Hollik. He said that the left wing continues to avoid straight talk on the question. He added that MSZP chairman Gyula Molnár spoke about many things during yesterday’s visit to Nyíregyháza except about the quota referendum for which he hasn’t given an answer for three weeks.”
Then Hollik himself could be heard while the scrolling text repeated news of terrorism, saying
“Does the left wing support the compulsory settlement involving Brussels settling migrants in our country over the heads of the Hungarian people?”
The anchorman then quoted the statement by MSZP that “whoever stays at home on October 2nd remains in Europe.”
After 8:05 pm no mention was made of migrants or terrorists, although a report on the Hungarian real estate market did manage to use the words “migrants”, presumably referring to Hungarians who have moved to Pest county from the countryside.
Out of 18 news reports, six dealt in some way with the refugees, five of them in an emphatic manner.
M4, 10 August 2016, Wednesday, 4:34 pm
Immediately upon the conclusion of the men’s water polo match between Hungary and Greece, M4 ran commercials followed at 4:34 pm by a “public service announcement” about the October 2nd referendum.
“From Libya alone nearly one million immigrants want to come to Europe. Let’s send Brussels a message that they can understand: referendum 2016 against the compulsory settlement.”
At 4:35 pm a short news segment announced that
“A migrant has threatened to blow himself up at one of the reception centers in Denmark. The 22-year-old Iranian immigrant climbed onto the roof where he wanted to detonate. In the end the police arrested him.”
It was not clear from the coverage whether he possessed explosives or not
This was immediately followed at 4:36 pm with the “news” that
“Counter-terrorism measures are being prepared in Germany. Sources say doctors’ confidentially obligations are to be laxed so that doctors can inform authorities if they know a patient is planning a crime.”
The news erroneously implies that if doctors inform authorities of a planned crime, this is a violation of the rules of confidentiality.
Following the broadcast of the next Olympic event (women’s fencing), M4 ran a second “public service announcement”:
“Did you know? Brussels wants to settle a city’s worth of illegal immigrants in Hungary. Let’s send Brussels a message that they can understand: refernendum 2016 against the compulsory settlement.”
M4, 14 August 2016, Sunday, 7:06 pm
“Within three or four months 3,000 new `border hunters` may enter service whose task it will be to help protect the southern Serbian-Hungarian border. The group will belong to the Standby Police,” announced the news.
“Traffic was backed up again on the M1 motorway because of random inspections carried out by Austrian authorities on the border. At one point the row of cars extended to five kilometers,” continued the program.
The third news in brief was about the conflict in Yemen (easily associated with the refugee crisis-ed.)
M4, 15 August 2016, Monday 2.24 am
During the halftime break of the much-awaited men’s water polo match between Brazil and Hungary, a one-minute news segment featured four news briefs, the first two of which pertained to the upcoming referendum.
“The posting of the notifications of the October referendum will be completed on Monday. If somebody does not receive the letter, then they can request a new notification from the local election office.”
The first news item was followed by news that
“’Sweden has no legal right to hold Hungary responsible for refusing to take back migrants registered here,’” said Zoltán Lominci Jr. The constitutional expert added that the third provision of the Dublin agreement stipulates that asylum seekers must be registered in the country where they first entered EU territory, and this was not Hungary”.
(Zoltán Lominci Jr. is not a “constitutional expert” but a lawyer. Furthermore, he is the spokesman for the government-funded, Fidesz-linked Civil Solidarity Forum (CÖF).-ed.)
On Friday the Hungarian Socialist Party formally complained to the National Election Committee (NVB) according to which the government’s propaganda campaign and commercials do not provide balanced information and merely serve to foment anti-immigrant and anti-EU sentiment. The body rejected the opposition party’s petition on the grounds that, by law, the campaign cannot start until August 14th, and that for this reason everything happening before that falls outside the NVB’s jurisdiction.