Two whistleblowers working at state-owned media umbrella organization MTVA described a lack of editorial independence and a climate of fear to Al Jazeera English.
The Qatar-based news channel interviewed two current MTVA employees who revealed the inner workings of the Hungarian government’s propaganda machine under the condition that their identity remain concealed.
One of the employees confirmed to Al Jazeera that such media outlets receive ready-made material from the government.
“Every single thing connected to domestic politics is restricted. You can’t write anything bad about the government. For example if something is politically sensitive, I get instructions. In some cases, I have the whole ready-made article so I don’t need to do anything. No editing, just ctrl-c, copy and paste the whole article. It’s unimaginable, to be honest.”
The same MTVA employee told Al Jazeera that once his superior had sent him a document by mistake which was produced by the content-making department of the Prime Minister’s Office.
Another current MTVA employee described to the news channel how his superior prevents material critical of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán being published:
“The editor-in-chief is genuinely like a dictator. […] In the beginning, we used to get emails like ‘please do it like this, please don’t do it like that,’ now he just shouts from one corner of the office ‘you can’t put this into the news, it’s against Viktor Orbán.”
According to this employee, the government propaganda is built on three phrases: Soros, migrant, and left-liberal.
“Whatever a story is about, if it mentions [the Open Society Foundations’ George] Soros we focus on it. Anything that has any connection to Soros gets the ‘Soros’ beginning, Soros organization, Soros university. And of course, the word ‘migrant’, then ‘left-liberal’. Left-liberal newspaper, left-liberal journalist. Only three words: Soros, migrant, and left-liberal. That’s the government’s whole campaign.”
According to one of the whistleblowers, every pro-government media outlet has a designated person who works at a centralized content-providing department and from which they receive directives explaining the government’s opinion on a given topic.
“They never dictate the exact article, they just include bullet points […] But put lots of articles with the different bylines together, look at the titles, highlight keywords and you realize the message is the same.”
Al Jazeera wanted to contact government spokesperson Zoltán Kovács to comment on the MTVA employees’ statements, but Kovács refused to spoke to the reporters, arguing that he does not believe “the government should in any way comment on media issues.”