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Hungary’s "muzzled" tabloid press is unstoppable, says Ferenc Hammer

Ferenc Hammer, Hungarian media expert and analyst

“We should not obey laws that do not exist. Because supposedly this is a rule-of-law state.” – Miklós Hargitai, chairman, National Alliance of Hungarian Journalists

Translation of 168 óra article “The muzzled tabloid press is unstoppable: Every dictator occupies the media” appearing in the May 4th, 2017 edition (pp. 8-10).

“Quite a collection” says Ferenc Hammer, media researcher, when we send him the collected links.  The campaign is actually grandiose.  It begins with personal elements (discrediting) and closes with a scientific analysis of the world of Soros. Márton Gulyás was careless.  He appeared too much, which is why he fell. As we learned, “Marci’s friends” are worried about “Marci’s surfing habits.” Gulyás’s internet wanderings, they write, focus on homosexual meet rooms, while transgender partying protesters gather in the streets.  And there is more: the BBC is spreading lies about the Hungarians in the CEU matter, writes 888.hu. A former CEU student offers an account of the feminist orgy taking place at the university. The government spokesman announces via MTI (Hungarian News Service-tran.) that Soros’ lies are deceiving the German government. The Hungarian Times (Magyar Idők) (which in this company is proportional and restrained) reports that the demonstrations were organized by paid Soros agents.

It has been suspected for a while that there are points of connection between the state media and the government-friendly media. Miklós Hargitai, the chairman of the National Alliance of Hungarian Journalists (MÚOSZ), believes the public media has received editorial principles from such actors which, in theory, have nothing to do with reporting. MTI’s page headings alone listing the topics raise suspicions. One of the most interesting ones was the fact that from one day to the next the “migration” heading changed to “illegal immigration.” Apart from MTI, every state organ adopted this. The party direction is not merely a suspicion or an impression.

This wouldn’t be a problem, says Hargitai, if the law prescribed that Árpád Habony was to have full power editing state news or the evening news.  If the law stipulated, for example, that women and children should not appear in photos about migrants. That in state news office photos only vital, bearded men can be seen.  But we should not obey laws that do not exist.  Because supposedly this is a rule-of-law state.

The MÚOSZ chairman maintains that in the media war more and more they rely on the tactics of the former democratic opposition.  It is necessary to insist on enforcement of the letter of the law!  János Kis and company sued the Ministry of Interior under Kádár until based on existing law they were required to issue them the passports they had been denied.

One could also surmise that they were progressively silencing (media outlets) through the acquisition of commercial media outlets and influence of the advertising market. The overt flouting of the law started when public media, whose non-partisanship should have been protected by politicians, was taken over and made an adjunct to the party press.

It appears that the state news service and tabloids are resonating with one another more and more.

“What do you mean resonate?” asked Ferenc Hammer uncomprehendingly.  “They are concretely writing the same thing.”

The next step is the coordination of the two spheres: the most brutal tabloid news and the state news service.  We are seeing a dress rehearsal of this. The first indicative sign of this was in the summer of 2015 when 888.hu was launched.  Its first big scoop was publishing (nude) photographs of the wife of then-MSZP chairman József Tóbiás.

What can we do?  Hungary has just arrived to the “mainstream” says Ferenc Hammer.  The changeover has just taken place: the deliberate linkage of the most muzzled tabloid news and politics. By the most muzzled I mean those outlets that systematically appear in court, the hero of defamation lawsuits, and those who order photographs taken with telescoping lenses.  They carry everything that violates human pride and dignity.  The tendency does not depend on Fidesz.  It is truly unstoppable.  We can only be glad it didn’t happen earlier.

Of course the governing party initiated this. Hammer says he has no problem either with tabloids or political tabloids, but if all of this takes place in the absence of a competitor to the government, even in the tabloids, then serious problems can result from this.

The hellish victim, as we have already indicated, was Márton Gulyás.  “Gulyás is not a martyr, but a primitive, calculating provocateur.”  “He would send those who do not agree with him to work camps.”  “He has neither a job, nor a degree.” But the main angle was his alleged surfing of homosexual dating websites.  In the story the deciding element was “supposed.”  According to the MÚOSZ president, characteristic of tabloid campaigns is that they employ formal elements of investigative journalism without its content.  “Supposedly.”  Because the point of supposing something is intimation.  We counted 31 articles from the series.

Whereas the Gulyás theme was easy to personalize and illustrate, the methodical discrediting of Central European University is more difficult work.  Turning people against a university is trying work.  Despite that, the dedicated editors of 888.hu and the others attempted to do so with numerous summaries.  “Pastries in the shape of vaginas, menstruating couches, brochures encouraging homosexuality, with these and other similar objects . . . they try to instill tolerance in those attending George Soros’s university” they write.  The problem is that “the rainbow brainwashing does not extend to those students and sympathizers who, as Soros’ soldiers, attack police, insult journalists, loudly embrace homosexuality, jostle, and mouth off.”  That’s the full text of the article, to which a vanilla vagina pastry is attached.  Less successful was the action of one blog which tried to prepare a bizarre compilation based on the titles of graduate thesis appearing on the website.  (“Failure or progress: feminist issues used by beaten demonstrators who were menstruating.”).

The rest are banal, commonplace attempts. The drama of the disappointed student who flunked out of the Soros university.  The political convictions of the teaching staff. And the apex of the military action:  Mária Schmidt’s definitive dissertation.  The work was advertised by state television before it appeared.

Ferenc Hammer believes the transition that is under way appears planned, rounded.  It has a beginning and an end, yet still chaos dominates, because the modern media world is chaotic and multi-channelled, for technical reasons as well.

Hammer says the system can be to first label the enemy and then to foist stupidity (on the public) with full force. On the other hand, politicians are busy and if the party has a lot of money the task is entrusted to “hired hands.”

The expression “trolls for hire” is left over from the period of Dualism.  The first publicist called a “troll for hire” by the Budapest community was called Aurél Kecskméthy.  His abilities were even respected by the Bach system, and in 1854 he became the paid employee of the media office of the ministry of the interior.

We asked the MÚOSZ chairman whether all of this can be called journalism.  Miklós Hargitai believes the definition of a journalist has changed.  We are playing in a field where everything is measured in hits.  A click on a serious work of investigative journalism is the same as one on a cute kitten. So why shouldn’t reporting fake news be part of the campaign?  It is not out of the question that there is room for this.  But do the domestic media regulations allow for this as well?  With regard to this situation, MÚOSZ could make recommendations, but it has no tools. Only authorities can uphold the law.  The only credible standard is the moral standard.

But what count as facts, we asked Hargitai.  The fallen of the world creak.  Democratic openness is struggling for survival.  If this is the case, what does a negative campaign matter, and what do the facts matter?

Hammer does not see the situation to be this dark.  A political cluster can occupy the media.  But that does not guarantee effectiveness.  Every known dictator wanted to control media.  And what did they achieve?  Of course the National System of Cooperation is also aware of the old saying:  “Journalism is a tool of class warfare.”

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