Sunrise or Sunset? The story of Napkelte
The program’s name is Napkelte (Sunrise) on MTV (Magyar Televizíó). It is a fairly popular political program starting at 6 a.m. It is also available in video form on the internet. (
) I usually take a look at interviews that sound interesting or important. The program is independently produced by an outside firm (Nap-TV), but MTV seems to have control over its content. Two men are responsible for the show: Tamás Gyárfás and Károly T. Lakat. Both started their careers as sportswriters. Gyárfás rarely appears on the show and on these occasions deals only with his favorite topic–sports. Lakat, son of a soccer player and coach, was himself a soccer player turned newspaperman; he now seems to specialize in theatrical celebrities. Gyárfás can get under your skin by his fairly aggressive manner while Lakat is sickeningly sweet and sycophantic.
If one visits Napkelte‘s homepage, the owners/editors are rather tight-lipped about the difficulties they have encountered at MTV over the years. They simply state that they have been on the air continuously since August 19, 1989. They proudly mention that at the beginning the show appeared only twice a week and could be watched only in the Budapest region while today they broadcast every day for three solid hours nationwide. They seem to forget that MTV dispensed with Gyárfás’s services sometime in 1998, most likely at the instruction of the Orbán government which, I assume, considered Napkelte too liberal. In any case, for about three years Napkelte received a home at a newly established commercial station called TV3. It was an American venture that didn’t last long. In March 2000 Napkelte’s future was again in doubt. At this point the newly established ATV came to the rescue. ATV is known to be a liberal station, oddly enough owned by the Assembly of God.
Gyárfás and Lakat didn’t seem to be too grateful to ATV because as soon as the Orbán government fell in 2002 Napkelte was welcomed back by MTV and Gyárfás returned to his old stomping grounds. As a result, the not too well endowed ATV had no programs in the morning for a long time: infomercial followed infomercial. Normally dubbed from German!
Life was pretty good for a while for the producers of Napkelte, but about a year and a half ago the largest opposition party, the Fidesz, decided to boycott Napkelte. They announced that as long as József Orosz and Endre Aczél were among the interviewers they would refuse to be guests on the show. I wrote earlier about this Fidesz decision under the title "The besieged media" (July 2, 2007). For a while nothing happened, and I thought that this boycott didn’t make a lot of sense from the point of view of the opposition party. After all, media exposure is important for a political party. Eventually, however, the reporters that Fidesz deemed unfriendly started coming under internal scrutiny. The president of MTV announced that both Orosz and Aczél must leave the staff because they also have programs at Klubrádió, another liberal mouthpiece. Orosz did indeed host a two-hour political program called Kontra-Rekontra five days a week. Aczél’s situation was different. It’s true that he had an hour-long program once a week, but it did not address current politics. Aczél simply gave yearly summaries of political events in Hungary and abroad between 1956 and 1989. Aczél argued his case and remained. Orosz left on his own volition, saying that he didn’t want to make Gyárfás’s situation difficult.
However, someone was not satisfied with the new status quo. A few days ago Aczél received a letter in which he was informed that his contract had been cancelled. The head of MTV decided that the program on the history of the years between 1956 and 1989 was after all incompatible with Aczél’s presence on Napkelte. For good measure he added that Aczél’s opinion pieces in Népszabadság also compromised his position at Napkelte. Again, this is a stretch because Aczél is mostly interested in foreign affairs and rarely, almost never, writes on domestic matters. But as of this week Aczél was off the show.
But wait, as American informercials go, there’s more! There is yet another man whom somebody wants to get rid of: András Bánó. According to the head of MTV Bánó lost his temper when interviewing József Karsai, the MSZP member of parliament who voted against the health care bill, and István Tarlós, the "independent" head of the Budapest Fidesz caucus and the man Orbán asked to be the manager of his campaign for the upcoming referendum. Although both men expressed total satisfaction with Bánó’s handling of their interviews, Bánó was handed a pink slip.
Those trying to cleanse the show of "dissident" voices should be proud of themselves. The few remaining people won’t disturb much water. They will not ask difficult questions. Lakat will not get into any trouble while trying to please actors and actresses. István Verebes, formerly a theater director and actor, is also totally harmless. János Betlen is not even trying to hide his right-wing sympathies. He can argue vehemently on his favorite side and interestingly never gets into trouble about his lack of objectivity. Ferenc Pallagi, who is the editor-in-chief of a tabloid, once upon a time was a respectable journalist. He used to work for Népszava and Magyar Hírlap, both good papers. Years ago, I even bought a book by him: his collected articles between 1990-1994. However, nowadays I am not exactly an admirer of Pallagi, whose manner of speech reminds me of the barking of a dog. No joke! Whether Gyárfás has had enough and will look around for a more hospitable television station, I don’t know. For the time being he managed to fill one slot with a woman, Kata Apáthi-Tóth. She is young and intelligent. I admire her bravery.
P.S. After I had finished this article I heard that Károly Lakat announced that his health is not the best and that his doctor has ordered him to go on an extended sick leave. One has to know that according to Hungarian labor laws, one cannot be fired while on sick leave. Never a dull moment in Hungary!