Mysterious ad columns skirt new Fidesz-authored law on political advertising

July 20, 2017

“The people cannot be banned, but the government can be replaced.”          Photo: Budapest Beacon – Justin Spike

A wave of posters appeared on advertising columns in Budapest Tuesday with a cryptic message from an unknown source.

“The people cannot be banned, but the government can be replaced,” reads the black text on a spare, white background.

The messages appear on urban advertising columns belonging to Mahir Kft., an outdoor advertising firm owned by former Fidesz-tied oligarch Lajos Simicska. The columns previously displayed political ads produced by far-right opposition party Jobbik, leading to speculation that Simicska, having had a public falling-out with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in 2015, is supporting Jobbik’s bid to dethrone the Fidesz government in 2018 elections.

But a recent bill unilaterally passed by the Fidesz-KDNP parliamentary coalition banned all outdoor political advertising outside of specified campaign periods, resulting in Jobbik being legally required to remove its political ads no later than Saturday, July 15.

But only three days later, the black and white posters appeared on the same columns from which Jobbik’s ad campaign had just been removed.

Hvg.hu asked Mahir Kft. to reveal who was responsible for placing the mysterious ads, to which the company replied only, “This is a message placed for social purposes on behalf of a private client.” Mahir Kft. denied that it had placed the posters on its own columns of its own accord.

Jobbik also denied involvement in the mystery. Party director Gábor Szabó told hvg.hu that Jobbik had ended all its contracts with Mahir Kft. on July 15, the day the Fidesz-authored advertising law went into effect. Szabó did say, however, that he and his party “identify one-hundred percent” with the content of the posters.

Since the black and white posters lack any information (logos, financial support information, etc.) connecting them to a political party or organization that receives state funding for campaigning (such ads are banned under the new law), they cannot be legally defined as political advertising. As hvg.hu points out, the ads managed to skirt the requirements of Fidesz’s new law limiting opposition political advertising, but the government is unlikely to allow the messages to remain for long on the streets of Budapest.