Hungarians watching state media coverage of the Rio Olympic Games are being bombarded with anti-refugee propaganda in the form of short news segments and public service announcements.
The government of Hungary is in the process of spending some HUF 5 billion (USD 18 million) telling Hungarians to vote “no” in a referendum scheduled to take place on October 2 on whether the country should be required by the EU to participate in “the compulsory settlement of non-Hungarian citizens in Hungary” without the consent of parliament.
At stake is whether the country should participate in a burden-sharing scheme approved by the European Council to temporarily settle some 1297 refugees in Hungary. Critics 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.
M4’s coverage on Wednesday included regular “public service announcements” warning of the dangers posed by refugees, asylum seekers and other migrants banned from entering Hungary. The announcements employ the same “Did you know?” format as the government billboard campaign linking migration to terrorism, supplemented with provocative photographs and animated graphics. For example:
“Did you know that since the beginning of the immigration crisis more than 300 people died as a result of terror attacks in Europe?”
“Did you know that Brussels wants to settle a whole city’s worth of illegal immigrants in Hungary?”
“Did you know that since the beginning of the immigration crisis the harassment of women has risen sharply in Europe?”
“Did you know that the Parisian terror attacks were committed by immigrants?”
“Did you know that just from Libya close to one million immigrants want to come to Europe?”
“Did you know that last year one and a half million immigrants arrived in Europe?”
Wednesday’s coverage featured a one-minute news segment comprising four items, three of which related to Europe’s refugee crisis. The first announced that an additional 3,000 police had been assigned to patrol the fence erected last summer along the Serbia border. The second reported that a 22-year-old asylum seeker in Denmark had allegedly threatened to blow himself up. The third announced the arrest in Germany of an Iranian who was allegedly planning a terrorist attack.
Critics of the referendum point out that the government is spending some HUF 3.7 million (USD 13,500) per refugee to be settled 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 of 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).