Pro-government media spins invalid referendum as victory for Viktor Orbán

October 4, 2016

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“With a participation rate of 43.3 percent, 3.2 million vote against obligatory resettlement.” – Pro-government print daily Magyar Idők

“Hungay says no to the mandatory quota.” – Pro-government print daily Magyar Hírlap

“The referendum failed.” – Conservative print daily Magyar Nemzet

“Orbán-failure at a cost of HUF 15 billion.” – Left-wing print daily Népszava

“Five million resisted the will of Viktor Orbán.” – Leftish print daily Népszabadság

“Orbán’s big referendum win.” – The American Interest

The government’s HUF 11 billion (USD 40 million) media campaign telling Hungarian voters to vote “no” in Sunday’s referendum transferred hundreds of  amounts of public monies to various pro-government media outlets.

Since construction and media mogul Lajos Simicska openly broke with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán last year, Simicska’s media empire, which includes print daily Magyar Nemzet, has ceased slavishly toeing the government line and started writing real news, although it retains its decidedly anti-liberal viewpoint.

Orbán’s personal propaganda machine

Faced with the loss of Simicka’s media empire, Orbán undertook to build a new pro-government media empire at public expense using a series of personal “advisors” and other individuals personally loyal and beholden to him.

The result is a state and pro-government media establishment that uncritically regurgitates news published by the Hungarian news service and a plethora of state media outlets.

2015 witnessed the launch or rebranding of many new pro-govenment print and online publications, including print daily Magyar Idők, free weekly tabloid Lokál and daily online 888.hu.  In addition, international government spokesman Zoltán Kovács started publishing his About Hungary blog.

Given a license to print money in the form of highly lucrative government licenses to operate casinos throughout Hungary as well as on-line gaming, former Hollywood producer and government film commissioner Andy Vajna acquired Hungary’s second largest commercial television station, TV2, at the end of last year, and is reportedly in the process of expanding his pro-government media empire.

The disparity between what the pro-government and what remains of Hungary’s independent media is reporting can be clearly seen in the coverage of the referendum, which the government is touting as a reinforcement of its 2014 mandate despite the fact that over 60 percent of the electorate either stayed away from the polls or cast an invalid ballot.

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Pro-government print daily Magyar Idők: “With a participation rate of 43.3 percent, 3.2 million vote against obligatory resettlement.”

Pro-government print daily Magyar Hírlap: “Hungay says no to the mandatory quota.”

Conservative print daily Magyar Nemzet: “The referendum failed.”

Left-wing print daily Népszava: “Orbán-failure at a cost of HUF 15 billion.”

Leftish print daily Népszabadság: “Five million resisted the will of Viktor Orbán.”

The disparity in coverage was also pronounced in the four months leading up to the poll, with Hungarian state media bombarding viewers with news of terrorist attacks, “no-go zones” and hordes of migrants just outside its borders waiting to invade the country.   State media coverage of the Rio games was replete with government “public service announcements” and news briefs warning of the imminent risk of terrorism posed by refugees and asylum seekers.

In the week preceding the historic vote, pro-government publications warned that in the case of an unsuccessful referendum, illegal immigrants would be settled in cities, towns and villages in inverse proportion to the number of “no” votes.  Dire predictions on the part of leading Fidesz politicians aired at some 200 public forums across the country were dutifully published, including Minister János Lázár’s warning that the resettlement of refugees would “obviously” result in the halving of social aid to Hungary’s marginalized Roma community and other impoverished Hungarians living in the countryside.

On the Friday before the election, Lokál, a free weekly tabloid launched by informal advisor to the prime minister and international man of mystery Árpad Habony to replace Simicska’s Metropol which, starved of government advertising revenues, went out of business, published the following front-page story two days before the referendum featuring Hungarian rock band Beatrice‘s lead singer:

"To them our daughters are just whores."
“Feró Nagy on migration: To them our daughters are just whores. The Beatrice lead singer is also voting no on Sunday. He tells us why.”

The government propaganda has fueled the anti-EU and anti-refugee press, including US-based conservative online publication The American Interest, whose coverage was headed: “Orbán’s big referendum win.”