Freedom of the press in Hungary: Fidesz refuses to allow any opposition members in the Media Council

The governing parties’ decision means that the Media Council, which exercises the right of press oversight in Hungary, will not have a single opposition member. According to the opposition parties, Fidesz’ dictatorial resolutions like this can be considered as an attack on democracy and the freedom of the press. Reflecting on this decision at the joint international press conference held by the parliamentary opposition parties on Tuesday, Jobbik’s Koloman Brenner said the governing parties once again abused their two-thirds majority and squeezing the opposition candidates out of the Council was nothing short of an insult to democracy.

Jobbik’s deputy faction leader told the press that the opposition requested two seats in the five-member Media Council but they would have made a compromise if they had been allowed to delegate at least one person to the body. However, Fidesz refused to allow one single opposition candidate to join the council, let alone two. He recalled that the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) found the 2018 national elections free but not fair, partly because of the completely biassed media.

According to Mr Brenner, Fidesz abuses its two-thirds majority by not giving any coverage for opposition MPs in the public or the Fidesz-related media, except of course when the governing party wants to smear and defame them. The clearest example of this adverse practice is Jobbik, which has been the target of the most serious attacks but has won about 250 libel suits against the Fidesz media since 2016. However, the courts only reach the verdicts significantly after the relevant election campaigns, which means that the damage arising from the wilful deception of the voters can never be remedied, other than the compensation paid from the taxpayers’ money. The opposition will have to meet a significant challenge by 2022: they will need to rise above their ideological differences and improve the media’s status in Hungary, Mr Brenner noted, comparing the situation to the collapse of the Communist regime when the Communists faced the joint democratic opposition at the other side of the table.

Socialist deputy faction leader Zita Gurmai said that the decision “shot down” all the opposition candidates so that the Media Council could be filled up with pro-government people. In her opinion, the reason why the government acted like this is because they’d been afraid for their power ever since the local elections. As she put it, it’s clear as day that they are attempting to prevent their potential fall by employing dictatorial means.

This is not a state under the rule of law, this is an increasingly hard dictatorship, she said, adding that the government wanted to subject the people to a single-party rule again, after thirty years. In her view, the Media Council’s resolutions have always been supportive of the Fidesz media and the pro-government oligarchs, which is clearly shown by the fact that the body failed to raise any concerns about the establishment and operation of the Central European Press and Media Foundation (KESMA) which incorporates 500 pro-Fidesz media outlets. She also criticized the recently amended legislation which granted such decision-making powers to the unanimously pro-Fidesz Media Council which enabled the body to terminate media outlets without any explanation by revoking their frequency licences.

Democratic Coalition’s (DK) MP Zsolt Gréczy said there was no real surprise yesterday. All that happened was that Fidesz just cemented its own people into the decision-making seats in yet another body, after occupying such independent institutions as the Hungarian Television and Radio, the State Audit Office, the Constitutional Court, the public prosecutor’s office or the courts. He also noted that HUF hundreds of billions from the Hungarian taxpayers’ money were spent on the public media each year even though more than half of the voters do not actually favour the government but they have to bear the costs anyway. “The freedom of the press is dead in Hungary,” DK’s politician asserted.

According to Mr Gréczy, the status of the Hungarian free press is clearly shown by how journalists are herded behind cordons in the Parliament Building and the MP Office while all county newspapers, which are responsible for keeping the rural population informed, are now in Viktor Orbán’s hands. The MP said that the members of this Media Council were going to be replaced within a few weeks after the 2022 government change, regardless of their nine-year mandate.

Politics Can Be Different Party’s faction leader László Lóránt Keresztes expressed his view that the “dignity of the Parliament”, which Fidesz MPs so often worry about, was not only undermined when opposition MPs protest loudly in the building but also when Fidesz MPs exclude the opposition MPs from any newly-formed committees and don’t even bother to conduct professional debates anymore. In his opinion, the delegates of the committee were clearly on a mission to carry out a command from a higher place: they couldn’t care less about coming to an agreement or even discussing the opposition’s proposals. Mr Keresztes emphasized that the opposition was asking for no more than two seats out of the five, which means that Fidesz would have retained its majority but the governing party refused to allow even that much. The MPs just carried out the orders they had been given and voted each other into the positions.

Dialogue Party’s MP Olivio Kocsis-Cake called it completely unacceptable that Fidesz refused to grant any seats for the opposition candidates in Hungary’s most important media supervisory body. In his view, it is the very cornerstone of democracy and the rule of law that opposition parties are given a chance to be involved in the oversight of the media. “The voters of these opposition parties cast their ballots to enable these parties, even if they don’t win the election, to control the government and speak out whenever the cabinet does anything undemocratic. Such a thing will certainly never happen in this Media Council,” he noted, adding that former Hungarian Public Television employees revealed how Fidesz’ media officials practically told them what to say about whom, or how to ridicule opposition parties but the Media Council offered no comment on that.

At the end of the press conference, Fidesz-controlled HirTV showed a blatant example why the current and future Media Council was completely useless. Despite the politicians’ request to the media to focus their questions this time on the press conference’s topic due to the importance of the matter, HirTV’s staff only posed non-related questions in an obvious attempt at smearing the participants. When they were not allowed to ask questions like that, they provocatively called the opposition MPs to account for the freedom of the press, then started to shout “Gyurcsány-government” in reference to former Socialist PM Gyurcsány.

We asked Koloman Brenner’s opinion about this diversion. Jobbik’s politician said this kind of act fitted into Fidesz’ extremely cynical manner of exercising its power. As he put it, there has been a disturbance in the force ever since the 13 October local elections. Even though Viktor Orbán first promised to respect the voters’ decision, it’s now clear that they don’t even refrain from such cheap provocations at an international press conference, he added. “You can feel how they have already lost their touch with reality,” Mr Brenner concluded.


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