Orbán uses anti-refugee campaign to reorganize Hungarian media market

September 19, 2016

screen-shot-2016-09-19-at-6-27-58-amThere has been a regime change in the billboard market.  In the background is Viktor Orbán’s lesser known former advisor, András Tombor, who appears everywhere.

Translation of “Sticky Hands” (“Enyves Kezek”) appearing in the September 15, 2016 edition of hvg (pp. 12-14).

With little exception the France-based JCDecaux has come to dominate the Hungarian advertising market.  Ever since prime minister Viktor Orbán signed the death warrant of Lajos Simicska, creator of Fidesz’s economic hinterland, JCDecaux has won the lion’s share of the public political advertising.  Apart from that there is hardly a media owner to receive more serious orders from the government for outdoor campaigns.  But the company has also received a respectable slice of the advertising pie in the commercial advertising sector as well.

There is plenty up for grabs because the government is in its second year of pouring money into the anti-refugee communication campaign. Fidesz has spent some HUF 4 billion of central budgetary funds whipping up feelings that serve its political interests, feeding fear, and fueling xenophobia.  This money was not only good for the Network 360 advertising agency belonging to Antal Rogán’s neighbor, Csaba Csetényi, to once again obtain significant orders.  This directed media buy is reorganizing the market, driving out Simicska’s companies, and giving orders to the chosen ones.  It is not by chance that all of this automatically makes it possible for the surviving media owners to act as gatekeepers and only allow such orders into the advertising market they consider acceptable.  The opposition parties, for example this year only spent HUF 5 million on billboards as opposed to the government’s billions.

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In Kecskemét a billboard owner took down a billboard that had already been paid for trumped up reasons, after the local Fidesz mayor made an example out of him.  In vain did Együtt politician Zoltán Hugyecz try to correct the objectionable details and designate the publisher, a small domestic billboard company, Kroc, confronted the opposition politician rather than the local power.  Kroc did not respond to our inquiries, but another company with a similar profile did.  Hungaroplakát’s commercial director, László Haris said that, generally speaking, if they install a billboard that caricatures a local potentate in such a settlement it incurs the wrath of the city.  Furthermore, a significant number of billboard locations happen to be on municipal property or the property of municipally-owned companies like that of the Budapest water works.

With one of its advertisements the Two-Tailed Dog Party ridicules the government’s “stupid questions” by taking it to the extreme and asking “Did you know that the Budapest Water Works can release LSD into the drinking water at any time?”

Party director Gergely Kovács told HVG the outrageous activists are not given the opportunity to advertise everywhere.  And if their money achieves something, then the ones installing the billboards are attacked, or their advertisements are vandalized or torn down.  The National Election Committee ruled in favor of the “Dog party” in one such case in Tiszaújváros.

The problem is not new.  In 2014 one of Simicska’s companies returned HUF 760,000 to the Socialists saying that it could not install the left-wing party’s advertisements.  It also happened to Jobbik that an advertising company allowed its own interests to reject them.  Formally, of course, it told them that there aren’t any empty surfaces or bid them an unrealistically high price.  By contrast, nothing stands in the way of the government.  They had already posted to (millions of Hungarian) households the brochure agitating for the rejection of the refugee settlement quota when it turned out that it is unlawful because it does not contain the name of the responsible publisher.  At that time, however, there was no point to forbidding its further distribution.

They revived the candelabra advertisements, also known as elephant ears, which the government claimed several years ago were dangerous to traffic.  Behind the change is the fact that it is no longer Esma, tied to left-wing business circles, which has the right to use lamp poles but rather the First Spanish-Hungarian Advertising Zrt. (Első Spanyol-Magyar Reklám Zrt.), which belongs to the owner of Viktor Orbán’s favorite soccer team, István Garancsi.  Garancsi only needed to wait a few months to be able to use the media surface he purchased at a depressed price.  They even flooded the countryside with elephant-ear advertisements with the installation of many thousands of these throughout the country.  In any case, this simplifies the burden of proof for the former Spanish owner who has sued the Hungarian state for the lost profits.

Is it pure coincidence that next to the company freshly obtained by Garancsi a French advertising company was the winner?  In expert circles the uniform opinion is that one known broker is busy in the outdoor advertising market.

András Tombor, Viktor Orbán’s former advisor on security policy and Orbán’s rhetoric in the matter of the refugee question security question.  Moreover, Tombor is well known on the advertising market as he was the CEO of JCDecaux’s predecessor, Multireklám, in the middle of the 2000s, when it was still owned by OTP CEO Sándor Csányi. Tombor is also trying to assert his influence among Budapest decision makers.  The BKV had already issued a call for public tenders for the sale of space on public transportation, and the conditions were practically custom tailored for JCDecaux.

The tenders happen to be undergoing a new procedure, but the news is not all problem-free and they have yet to present the results to the BKV directorate.  Tombor did not respond to our inquiries.  JCDecaux CEO Szilád Szelei told HVG “András Tombor has no ownership interest in JCDecaux, is not an officer of the company, and JCDecaux does not have any business dealings with him.”

“There is no point to such a market if the actors allow themselves to be taken over” says the director of a billboard company who wishes to remain anonymous.  From election to election the politicians promise the companies that they will get future orders if they perform their campaign work for the designated amount.  But it never happens.  “When Simicska’s companies took the contracts signed with MÁV and stole the contracts with the districts, it did not occur to anybody to object!” exclaims one advertising expert.  However, it seems as though the riotors are late as the roles have already been handed out. The government’s tricolor campaign is appearing on JCDecaux billboards, which is being paid for by the state, while Fidesz has yet to spend a single filler from the party cash desk on the referendum campaign.