National Election Committee decides not to investigate anti-migrant campaign

August 12, 2016

Budapest, 2016. augusztus 1. A kormány kényszerbetelepítés elleni népszavazáson való részvételre felhívó óriásplakátjai Budapesten, a IV. kerületi Váci úton 2016. augusztus 1-jén. MTI Fotó: Bruzák Noémi
The election commission thinks this is not part of the official campaign. Photo: MTI/Bruzák Noémi

Looks like the anti-migrant propaganda of the Hungarian government is here to stay, or at least until the migrant settlement quota referendum on October 2.

For weeks, the country has been awash in posters and TV advertisements claiming “the attacks in Paris were acts of immigrants” and that “since the start of the migration crisis the number of assault cases against women has sharply risen”. Even M4 channel’s coverage of the Rio Olympics includes regular “public service announcements” warning of the dangers posed by refugees, asylum seekers and other migrants banned from entering Hungary.

No investigation

The propaganda campaign has brought on criticism not only from opposition parties but civilians as well. Opposition party Together (Együtt) has launched a countrywide protest, asking everybody to deface the posters by overlaying them with an alternative message. Critics also claim the anti-migrant campaign is primarily intended to shore up support for the government, whose popularity is flagging in the wake of a series of corruption scandals.

The Hungarian Socialist Party (Magyar Szocialista Párt – MSZP) went even further by submitting a petition to the National Election Committee (Nemzeti Választási Bizottság – NVB). The Socialists argued that the propaganda billboards and ads do not give balanced information and, rather than urge people to cast their ballots, foment sentiments against asylum seekers and the policy of the European Union.

Electoral law states that any advertisement able to (or even trying to) influence voters is deemed a political campaign tool and, as such, is forbidden by law.

MSZP asked the committee to ban the propaganda campaign, but their hopes were quickly dashed when the organization declined to investigate. According to Hungarian news website Nol.hu, NVB president András Patyi ruled that “political advertisements outside the time frame of the official campaign cannot legally be considered campaign action” and, as such, they cannot be against the law.

Misleading and unlawful

Interestingly, parliamentary faction leader of Fidesz Lajos Kósa used exactly the same argument in an interview with Hungarian TV channel ATV. Kósa said the official governmental campaign will only start August 13, even if the present posters and TV ads are also financed from government money.

Critics of the referendum point out that the government is spending some HUF 3.7 million (USD 13,500) per refugee to be temporarily settled in Hungary, by urging Hungarians to vote “no” in a referendum having no bearing whatsoever on the fact that, as an EU member, Hungary is required by international treaty to respect the decisions of the European Council. Legal experts point out that the referendum itself is both misleading (the settlement scheme is not compulsory, as EU member states may opt out by contributing a certain amount for the care of refugees elsewhere) and unlawful (referendums may only be held on subjects falling within the purview of the Hungarian parliament, which is clearly not the case concerning the burden-sharing decision taken by the European Council).