Yesterday a newcomer to this blog posted a comment in which he said that he refuses to believe news reports that are broadcast on Klubrádió. In this particular instance, that 350,000 Hungarians work abroad and that this number constitutes 7.4% of the population between the ages of 18 and 49. That incredible closed-mindedness inspired me to do some research on the subject.
First, the news naturally didn’t originate with Klubrádió. The station relied on Magyar Távirati Iroda (MTI), the official Hungarian news agency, which since 2010 is no longer an independent organization but functions under government supervision. Also, while earlier news organizations had to pay for the wire service, since 2010 the Hungarian government “generously” provides the service free of charge. MTI thus has a monopoly; all news outlets rely either in large part or exclusively on MTI’s increasingly biased summaries.
I decided to take a look at how various media outlets reported the news of July 11, 2013, the day the Central Statistical Office (KSH) released two important items. The first dealt with the latest figures on living standards or more precisely on the situation of people who live at or below the subsistence level. A couple of hours later came the surprising news about the high numbers of Hungarians who work abroad.
The figures about the plight of more than half of the population who live in very modest circumstances or in outright poverty appeared in practically all publications. It was only the extent of the coverage that varied. I went to the website of MTI to find the original news release. Pro-government papers (Magyar Nemzet, Magyar Hírlap) copied the MTI summary without changing a word. That summary was brief indeed: 292 words. It is educational to take a look at the original release of KSH to see that MTI was especially loath to give any past figures that would have shown that the situation is getting worse and worse every year. The opposition papers for the most part were not satisfied with simple copying; they went to the original source and did their own summaries of KSH’s report.
When it comes to the 350,000 Hungarians working abroad, Magyar Nemzet and Magyar Hírlap decided not to include this particular MTI news report in their papers. I guess they thought that it would be bad for business for their highly nationalistic readership to be confronted with such depressing news. This morning, however, both papers ran lengthy articles about what Tibor Navracsics had to say in response to the news. Navracsics delivered a speech to a meeting of Fidelitas, Fidesz’s youth organization, in which he tried to cheer up his audience by pointing out that the trend of young men and women leaving the country “can be reversed.” The faithful Fidesz supporters who refuse to read any other papers might have been somewhat baffled about this mysterious “trend” they never heard of.
I took the trouble to read all the MTI releases for July 11 and noted those items I found most significant over and above the two reports of KSH. (1) György Surányi, former chairman of the Hungarian National Bank, and Attila Chickán, minister of economics in the first Orbán administration, announced that in fact the present Orbán government is not “doing better” than its predecessor. (The current Fidesz slogan is “Hungary is doing better.”) (2) The Orbán government allocated from the reserves 4 billion forints for higher education and 1 billion for sports. (3) Együtt 2014-PM at last managed to get registered. (4) MTI released a graph that showed that average teachers’ salaries have decreased since 2010. (5) Barroso will attend a conference in Warsaw where they will discuss the future of Europe. (6) A graph showed the deficit of the central government and the municipalities for the first six months of the year. (7) The Croatian prosecutors’ office asked its Hungarian counterpart to allow them to interrogate Zsolt Hernádi, CEO of MOL, who is suspected in a bribery case in Croatia. As we will see later, none of these items was discussed either on Magyar Rádió, the public radio station that can be heard everywhere in the country, or on MTV, the Hungarian public television station.
Let me start with “Hiradó” (News) of MTV. Here all news is good news. (1) Inflation is low. Only 1.9%. (2) In the future 60% of EU subsidies will go to stimulate economic growth which will be impressive. (3) Small- and medium-size companies get more government assistance than at any time before. (4) An Irish company invested a billion forints in Szolnok. (5) The government signed several new strategic agreements with foreign companies. (6) At no time were government bonds as popular both at home and abroad as now. It shows that investors trust the Hungarian government’s economic policy. (7) At last teachers in parochial schools will get the same salary as teachers in state schools. (8) Sándor Burány (MSZP) claimed that Hungarians are poorer today than they were before. Fidesz answered that it is all the former governments’ fault. (9) Benedek Jávor (Együtt-PM) complained about the chaos with the newly introduced E-toll system but Fidesz assured him that all was well. (10) As for Hungarian culture in the world, the folk festival in Washington was a great success; 1.2 million Americans had the opportunity to learn something about Hungary and its culture. (11) The prime minister of Luxembourg resigned. (12) It is the anniversary of the massacre at Srebrenica.
So, this is what apparently most Hungarians hear on MTV’s news. But Mária Vásárhelyi, a sociologist whose field is the media, claims that fewer and fewer people actually watch MTV’s news. The situation is different with Magyar Rádió. According to her, in some houses MR is on all day long; even if people don’t listen very carefully, some of the propaganda gets through.
Well, the menu is not very different on MR from what I heard on MTV. In its Krónika the same stories could be heard practically word for word, even in the same sequence as on Hiradó on MTV. At least on its 5:30 p.m. version. At 8:00 p.m. there was a slightly different set of news items highlighting the same success story. Viktor Orbán’s great plan for saving jobs worked beautifully: 720,000 jobs were saved. At this hour it seems that Hungarian news from the neighboring countries gets special treatment. There were a couple of news items from Romania and Serbia. By 10:00 p.m. there was a lot of talk about the success of Hungarian tourism: 20% more foreigners decided to spend their holidays in Hungary. These people start discovering other parts of the country, not just Lake Balaton. Hungarians seem to be better off too because more of them go on vacation. At least 10% more than last year.
And finally, I combed through the July 11 news items of Klubrádió. Here we have a more balanced account of the news. We hear the good and the bad. They mention the relatively low inflation rate and Varga’s boasting about the 720,000 saved jobs, but they also include the KSH reports and the Croatian prosecutors’ desire to talk to Hernádi.
After spending the whole morning listening to the news of MR and MTV I am not surprised that some media experts claim that by the 1980s even the Kádár regime’s news reporting was of higher quality and more balanced than what Hungarians get today in the so-called democratic Hungary.