On the Ákos-Telekom-Government controversy

December 17, 2015

Government spokesman Zoltán Kovács today announced the Hungarian government was terminating ALL of its contracts with Magyar Telekom after the latter terminated its corporate sponsorship of Hungarian pop star Ákos after the latter made comments on Echo TV generally considered to be insulting to women.  The government subsequently modified its statement to say that it was terminating all mobile internet subscriptions with Magyar Telekom, but that a cooperation agreement had been concluded with the German-owned company in which the latter agreed to undertake investments in Hungary that would create  jobs.

“The government has ordered all ministries and government agencies to terminate their contracts with Magyar Telekom,” government spokesman Zoltán Kovács initially told Hungary’s state-run media.

According to Kovács, the government met on Wednesday to discuss Magyar Telekom’s decision to terminate its corporate sponsorship of singer Ákos after an interview appeared in which he made comments degrading to women.

“The government was shocked to learn of the steps taken by Magyar Telekom and considers these steps to be a violation of the constitution and the letter of law,” said Kovács. Such actions may be acceptable in Germany, the spokesman said, but “it is unacceptable in Hungary to punish anyone in this way for their opinions and beliefs”.

Some background

This past weekend, Speaker of the National Assembly László Kövér (Fidesz) and entertainer Ákos Kovács separately made public statements about the role of women in society.

Kövér’s statements were made during ruling party Fidesz’s annual congress. He said something to the effect that women should be more concerned with giving us more grandchildren.

Kovács made his comments during an interview on pro-Fidesz Echo TV. The interview took place before his concert this week. He said: “It isn’t the job of women to make as much money as men. That’s what I think….[Their job] is to fulfill the female principium, to belong to someone, to give someone children….to be a mother.”

He went on to say that being a mother and working are mutually exclusive.

“How could you be a mother, how are you going to spend time with your kids when if you’re an executive making who knows how much?” Ákos asked.

Magyar Telekom cancels its sponsorship of Ákos

Magyar Telekom announced on Wednesday it was terminating its sponsorship of Ákos because the company couldn’t accept his statements in the EchoTV interview.

The Hungarian government responds

Later that day Minister Overseeing the Office of the Prime Minister János Lázár said he was “shocked” by Magyar Telekom’s decision to withdraw its sponsorship of Ákos.

Lázár called the decision a “dictatorship of opinion and taste which is completely unimaginable in a democratic country with a rule of law”. He said Germany should know what it is like to live in a dictatorship.

Lázár then asked whether it would be acceptable for the Hungarian government to break its contract with Magyar Telekom if it disagreed with the company’s opinions.

The next day

The government announced it would break all of its contracts with Magyar Telekom because it found the company’s move against Ákos “unconstitutional”.

According to 444.hu, Magyar Telekom was caught completely off guard by the government’s announcement, as was the German embassy  in Budapest (Magyar Telekom is a subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom).

Fidesz cares greatly about Ákos

Ákos is a Fidesz celebutante. His controversial statements were made during an interview with pro-Fidesz broadcaster Echo TV.

The timing of the statements was also interesting. They came at roughly the same time that Speaker of the National Assembly Kövér revealed his own thoughts about the place of Hungarian women in the world.

The statements made by both Kövér and Ákos were controversial. Hungarians took to social media to express their dissatisfaction at what they deemed to be sexist remarks by two well-known Hungarians.

Hungarians who support Fidesz were flabbergasted by the uproar and began accusing critics of “opinion terrorism” and “liberal fascism”.

By announcing the cancellation of its contracts with Magyar Telekom, the Fidesz government is making a play for more political capital among Hungary’s so-called “conservative” voters. And by turning against a large employer and a large investor (Deutsche Telekom/Magyar Telekom), the government is showing its willingness to punish businesses for putting distance between themselves and key (Fidesz-favored) entertainers.

What incentive does the Hungarian government have to punish Magyar Telekom with such an outrageous announcement?

Hungarian news site 444.hu points out that Magyar Telekom’s shares plunged 3 percent following the government’s first announcement that it would cancel all contracts with the company. The government later changed its statement, claiming that it would cancel only mobile internet subscriptions.