The reorganization of Hungarian state television: An attack on RTL Klub and HírTV

Today let’s begin with one of András Bruck’s observations about Viktor Orbán which, according to him, explains a lot about the system he has been busily building in the last five years. And that is vengeance.  If someone stands in his way, he retaliates. Orbán is someone who orders the closing of the research institute headed by his former undersecretary of agriculture, József Ángyán, because he criticized the government’s land lease program. He is someone who blocks the appointment of a history professor because he happens to be the son of a man who is critical of the regime. He is the kind of person who cuts off sponsorship of the Paks football team because the city’s voters did not elect the “right” man for mayor last October.

The latest example of Orbán’s vindictive nature is the reorganization of MTV, which is supposed to function as an independent public television station but which by now is nothing more than a government propaganda machine. Admittedly, MTV badly needed a face lift. Quite a few years ago Sándor Friderikusz submitted an application to head Hungarian public television. In it he outlined the need for separate news, sports, and cultural channels instead of trying to squeeze everything into one channel, from religious services to sports events to soap operas. Friderikusz, of course, didn’t stand a chance of getting the job because of his liberal political views. Moreover, the public was told that to reorganize MTV along the lines Friderikusz proposed would be far too expensive. Well, these days MTV costs Hungarian taxpayers more than 80 billion forints for programs nobody wants to watch. And yet there is now money for multiple channels.

Somewhat belatedly, the Orbán regime came to the conclusion that after all it was a good idea to have several channels with different media content. In addition to MTV there is Duna TV, which was established to target the Hungarian diaspora in the Carpathian Basin. I don’t know how popular Duna TV is outside of Hungary’s borders, but I understand that it’s not watched much by the locals. Now it will be the “mother ship” of the reorganized MTV. It will be “the chief television station of the nation” while M1, the former mainstay of the network, will be a second BBC cum CNN. This is at least what government officials promise. They even hired a Brit, Simon Jago, who worked for BBC and al-Jazeera, to head the news channel. I wonder how long he will last once he realizes that he is supposed to run a propaganda machine. But I guess as long as he doesn’t understand the language all will be well.

In addition, there will be a sports channel (M4) and Petőfi TV, which is described as a channel for youngsters and young adults. Way back in October when the plans were first announced, made fun of this swinging new channel “offered to the lovers of public media.” It is a well-known fact that no young adult ever watches stodgy state television. But perhaps Petőfi will do the trick.

We know that Viktor Orbán can never leave anything alone. He must turn everything upside down. Therefore it is understandable that he wants to reshape the state television network. But in this case there is more to it. The reorganization of state televison has the added benefit of making the lives of two “enemies” very difficult. I’m thinking here of RTL Klub and Lajos Simicska’s HírTV. Petőfi TV will be taking on RTL Klub while M1’s news channel will compete with HírTV.

RTL Klub is the most popular commercial television station in Hungary. The channel airs programs aimed at a younger (18–49) audience, which some high-brow people consider to be mindless entertainment. RTL Klub wanted to remain on friendly terms with the government and therefore the station’s news program did not dwell on the darker side of the Orbán regime. They rarely announced news that was uncomfortable for the government. But RTL Klub’s subservient attitude did not satisfy Viktor Orbán, who decided to drive the company out of the country by levying an inordinately large tax on its advertising revenues. RTL Klub did not take the assault lying down, and the news editors began filling their evening programs with juicy stories about the corruption cases involving government officials and friends of Viktor Orbán. The war was on. The move backfired. RTL Klub’s audience soared, and many observers are convinced that RTL Klub’s decision to “enlighten” its younger audience contributed substantially to the general dissatisfaction with the government that has been growing rapidly of late.

And there is the another problem for Viktor Orbán–his old childhood friend, Lajos Simicska, whom Orbán once described as a financial genius. Simicska became a very wealthy man, an oligarch with great political influence. There was a division of labor between Simicska and Orbán that seemed to be beneficial to both. In the last six months, however, there has been more and more talk about their falling out. Perhaps Orbán thinks that Simicska’s political influence is no longer in his own interest and would like to see him out of the picture.

Whatever the case, in addition to his company, Közgép, which has received 44% of all government contracts financed by the European Union, Simicska has a media empire that includes Magyar Nemzet and HírTV. Both have a very bad reputation as far as reliability is concerned. Magyar Nemzet must have been sued at least 300 times for publishing false information. HírTV is also notorious for falsified stories and the unprofessional behavior of their reporters. In fact, at some of the demonstrations people chanted all sorts of derogatory slogans about HírTV, and in one case one of their reporters was roughed up a bit. HírTV’s staff worked hard and with enthusiasm for the cause, but now they are no longer the favorites of the regime. Most likely they are the victims of the Orbán-Simicska feud. HírTV’s fate was sealed when it refused to air Viktor Orbán’s “illiberal speech” in Romania last summer.

Source: Válasz

Source: Válasz

Who would ever have believed that the vice president of HírTV would give an interview to the social democratic Népszava? But that is exactly what happened. Péter Szikszai, vice president of HírTV, told the reporter that it has been clear to them from the initial announcement of the plan that the creation of an MTV news channel was a move against HírTV. The creation of this new channel will cost an additional 4-5 billion forints, but experts doubt that it will be a success given the reputation of MTV. Neither HírTV nor ATV, which also specializes in news, worries about the launch of M1.

Szikszai was not kind to MTV when he predicted that the new state television news station will be full of “production reports” (termelési riportok), which were the standard fare of television news in the Kádár regime. Surely, HírTV will have no difficulty competing with such programming. They have more than ten years of experience and are ready to pick up the gauntlet. Such attacks only make them stronger. They will forge ahead without changing their profile. “Despite the advertising tax and the launch of a rival station, we will do what the job of a right-wing television station is. Even if at the moment a right-wing government does not like us.”

This last sentence sounds ideologically correct from the vice president of a right-wing TV station, but I somehow doubt that the content of HírTV will be exactly the same as it has been in the last ten years. I wonder whether they will follow RTL Klub’s example and send out their aggressive reporters who until now have gone after only opposition politicians to do the same with the members of the government that “does not like them at the moment.” Because if this is the case, Viktor Orbán’s vengeful plan may backfire.


  1. Duna TV is actually quite watched in Hungary. True, it doesn’t feature any of those popular soap operas or reality TV shows, but it does show a lot of interesting ( or boring, if you are not into these kind of things) documentaries, which present, among other topics, about the lives and culture of Hungarians living outside the present boarder, as well as about Hungarians around the world, history and folklore. In addition to this they also broadcast many hungarian art films, in addition to funding them. ( at least they were still funding them when I still lived in Hungary, till 2012). Duna TV is also very popular among hungarian retirees in Canada and the U.S. because they’re also have a noontime show featuring syrupy nostalgic nóták. Perhaps for some Duna TV is too nostalgic, too folkloric, too népies, too artsy-fartsy, but it defiantly has a place and an audience.

  2. @Canadian, well, it will not function that way in the future. Otherwise, I saw a few so-called historical documentaries of Duna TV. They were outrageously unscientific, nationalistic, and primitive.

  3. Perhaps, we should guess the subject of the next anti-regime street demonstration.

    No to Orban in Paris and Budapest!

    Unwelcome in Budapest,
    Unwelcome in Paris!

  4. Here’s a prediction for all this ridiculous talk about Orban’s demise:

    —Orban will only be defeated, or removed, if Putin is no more.—

  5. Duna TV has traditionally had a 1-3% (!) viewership rate in Hungary, and I never read about its results in the neighboring countries. But it’s a well-known fact that even in Romania etc. where available on cable Hungarian-speakers watch RTL and TV2 rather than Duna TV.

    Mind you when MTV rearranged its internet site about two years ago, it announced that it will be market leader soon. Nobody gives ***t about it.

    MTV’s HUF 80bn budget (just this year, and MTV burned almost as much in each of the last 4 years) is not just burnt on useless programs it’s in significant party stolen by reliable fideszniks. (Philip Rákay, had a two-day live broadcast show on a weekend showing the togetherness of the nation for 1bn and so on).

    I wouldn’t overestimate the important of the falling out between Orban and Simicska. Magyar Nemzet is continuing with pushing it’s anti-EU, anti-American and pro-Russian agenda.

    Moreover, there is a reason why Népszava was open to this interview, it’s being financed by Simicska himself (supporting the “szocis” who are the owners on paper, but who have no money, so are totally reliant on the bits and pieces falling down from the table of the big guys; so it’s a fantastic example of bipartizanship).

  6. @cinicincin – The last time I visited people in the Szekler lands, I found they were watching Romanian commercial stations. I asked whether they watched Duna or other Hungarian stations. They said they did if there was a good film on, but they generally found Hungarian t.v. boring, and said (with some bitterness) that Romanian t.v. is much better.

  7. A bit OT:

    The DACH tv station 3SAT yesterday evening showed in its “Auslands-Journal” a scathing report on the latest crazy adventures in Budapest – seen through the eyes of some teenagers in a bar in Budapest who wondered about those drug tests that were announced, the internet tax and other Fidesz idiocies …
    Then McCain’s speech was mentioned (a short excerpt was shown) and the way Orbán is climbing up into Putin’s behind …
    It was really funny in a way, all those topics that have been discussed here lately were put together to show Hungary as a kind of “illiberal operetta state” aka banana republic!

  8. This is hearsay technically,but from those I know well. This new front in the FIDESZ civil war is really Habony vs. Simiska/Nyerges. Habony is behind and stands to really benefit from the new mo eg going into public tv.
    Even the TV2 people (reputed also to be supported by Nyerges) are very unhappy by new rules for free to air tv broadcasters (including not being able to charge cable TV providers for carriage).

  9. @Webber

    I know Slovakian Hungarian friends who also more of then than not prefer Slovakian stations over Hungarian ones, but the point is Duna is almost never watched and whereever available the commercial stations are of course more popular. Ethnic Hungarians behave like the “normal” people everywhere.

    Duna’s issue is that it is based on a weird “pure Transylvania, where Hungarians still live as they ought to, without the bad influences of modernity and liberalism” ideology. This is a terrible Budapest-based and totally unrealistic approach, which is pushed by the right-wing nationalist intelligentsia of Hungary. It has nothing to do with reality and it is partly responsible for its irrelevance anywhere. In Hungary Duna Tv is held to be more boring and more ridiculous than MTV 1 is.

    Ethnic Hungarians are not homogenous at all and they aren’t like the projected image shown on Duna Tv.That said, in the last 5-10 years ethnic Hungarians especially in Romania became more insular and more nationalistic as Fidesz’ right wing ideology and Jobbik became more popular (the push against RMDSZ was part of this ideological war too).

    I think Hir tv and the rest should indeed not worry. However much money Fidesz will throw at the state tv (of course half of it will be duly stolen), these stations will not be more popular. On the other hand, those who still watch these stations (mostly living in Hungary), will continue to remain under the spell of Orban.

  10. Although hundreds of thousands of foreign people received Hungarian citizenship in the last four years (from Ukraine tens of thousands without any connection to Hungary whatsoever, the citizenships were sold off wholesale, presumably thousands to Russians as well), but the illegal migrants and asylum seekers are now a national security issue so TEK (Orban’s personal secret service, which exists parallel to other established secret services) will have to grow and develop. TEK is already omnipotent, but they want more money and influence.

  11. Well I have seen some episodes from the “Hazajáró” show on Duna – in most episodes travelling across the borders, finding the most nationalist hungarian there, interviewing him (almos all men), hiking on top of some peak and flying a hungarian flag there – because they were visiting my part of slovakia. Concerning the T-shirts of the two hosts, I was expecting trianon symbols and maps, rovásscript and iredentistic mottos, that was no surprise to me, I see a lot of hungarian tourists dressed like that in summer here, but I was really struck when one of them was wearing “Thor Steinar” jacket, a german neo-nazi brand.
    I am no fan of current slovak govt, but if someone on the state TV (any TV in fact) here was wearing even Thor Steinar socks, he is kicked out in a minute.

  12. Last time I looked (2013) Duna TV had a viewing share of less than 1% and had consistently enjoyed this level of viewing “popularity” since the 1990s. I can see no earthly reason why that situation would have changed in the past 2 years.
    It has approximately the same level of viewing in Romania, Slovakia etc where people can watch RTL Klub, TV2 and a large number of other Hungarian language channels (and prefer to do so).
    I once had a meeting with the management of Duna TV to discuss acting as their advertising sales agent. They proudly informed me that it was their business strategy not to broadcast advertising on public holidays so that their viewers didn’t have to watch commercial messages whilst enjoying the “special” St Stephen’s Day / Christmas Day / Easter programs.

    When I suggested that probably nobody had ever noticed that they don’t broadcast advertising on Christmas Day and 20th August they took offence.

    I don’t really understand why anyone cares about this channel. It should simply be closed down.

    A worthy idea but completely redundant in the 21st Century. If the people of Székelyudvarhely want to watch TV they’ll watch something entertaining (including Romanian TV) and if they want “cultural programs” they’ll find them on the web.

    Dune is pointless.

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