Eighteen times in four years – this is how many times opposition parties have been invited to the public media since 2018
March 09. 2022. – 12:44 PM
Translation by Andrea Horváth Kávai.
Each opposition party will have its five minutes to introduce its programme to the viewers of the public media service. MTVA (the state-run media company) “is going beyond its legal obligation” to provide this for them. Starting on March 16th, the parties can talk about themselves for a few minutes either on TV channel M1 right before 8 AM, or on Wednesdays and Thursdays on Kossuth Radio after the 8 AM programme.
The public media service (which has a budget of more than 300 million euros this year) made this announcement following the opposition protest held in front of the MTVA headquarters on Sunday, where Miklós Hajnal (Momentum) announced that he received the information that during this year’s campaign, opposition politicians will not even be given the five minutes they were granted prior to the previous elections.
Now it turns out that this year will be no different from 2018.
Four years ago, when given this chance, Péter Juhász, president of the then still existing party Együtt (Together) chose to speak about the Orbán family’s estate in Hatvanpuszta instead of his own party, and Miklós Hajnal from Momentum listed questions about Fidesz sent to him by his followers.
He asked about Viktor Orbán and his power, when the agent files (the files containing the names of those who spied on their friends and acquaintances during communist times) would finally be made public, whether it would have been better to spend money on education instead of building stadiums, when Orbán went from representing Western values to being a Russia-friendly “dictator, who wishes to bury the West”, why Hungary took a loan from Russia to build Paks II, and why the prime minister is refusing to have a public debate?
The last elections were held four years ago, so we asked the opposition parties how many times they have been invited to the public service studios to participate in political programmes since then, and whether the public service media has reached out to them in the current campaign at all.
Their answers reveal that DK (the Democratic Coalition) is one of the worst off: since 2018 no politician of theirs has been invited even once to any of the public service programmes, and this includes this year’s campaign season as well.
According to Gergő Kovács, president of Kétfarkú Kutya Párt (The Two-tailed Dog Party) since 2018 they have spent “zero times zero minutes” at the public service studios and this is true for the current campaign too. He added that five minutes of on-air time every four years made as much sense then as it does now, which is the reason why four years ago one of their members went in dressed like a chicken:
Momentum was invited to the public media programmes once since the 2018 Hungarian elections: they were given five minutes prior to the 2019 European Parliamentary elections. One of their activists was also invited to a talk show discussing cultural topics on M4, but since this person is not a public figure, and the time was not right for them, they didn’t go. They have not received any invitations so far this year.
MSZP (The Hungarian Socialist Party) was given more airtime: in the past four years they were featured in the public service media a total of six times. Their detailed answer reveals that since the last elections they have been invited to the programmes “This morning” and “This evening”, as well as three times to Kossuth radio.
During the 2019 European Parliamentary elections, they were invited to M1 once, and they took advantage of the opportunity to introduce themselves when the public service “went beyond its legal obligation” and allowed organisations which had set up national lists for the EP elections to be featured. In this year’s campaign they have not been invited in yet, and as of 8 March have not received “an invitation to introduce themselves”.
The politicians of LMP (Lehet Más a Politika – Politics can be different) were invited to the public service TV studios nine times in the past four years, and were interviewed sixteen times by Kossuth Rádió during the same time period. However, so far they have not been featured even once during this year’s campaign.
Jobbik’s answer to our question was “if our memory is right, the last time we were in the building of the state-owned media was in December of 2018, although even then, we had to climb over the fence”. They have not been invited yet during this year’s campaign, and their answer did not specify whether they were featured in the public service media between April 2018 and December 2018.
Probably the most memorable public service appearance was that of Párbeszéd (Discourse for Hungary). On the hundredth day of being mayor of Budapest, the main thing the reporter insisted on finding out from Gergely Karácsony was whether he had arrived at the TV station by bike.
The party told us that other than this memorable occasion, their MP Olivio Kocsis-Cake was invited to the state television in February 2021, and Tímea Szabó was also contacted for an interview once, but this ended up being canceled by the editor. They have not been contacted yet this year, and they added: “we have only received information about advertising from the public media service, but Párbeszéd politicians have not received any requests or opportunities for being featured.”
Beyond their legal obligation
The public media service claims that the law does not prescribe giving this much space to the various parties, and that what they are offering is “beyond their legal obligation”.
According to their statement, this is done because “equality of opportunity is of paramount importance” to them, and they are striving “to ensure a level playing field for all nominating organisations in these elections, and to provide balanced, objective information to their viewers and listeners”.
They are also seeking to ensure that voters “have access to credible sources about the programmes of all the parties and political alliances running for elections this year, so that they can make their decisions on 3 April based on the broadest and most balanced information”. The parties will be featured in their programmes in the same order they are listed on the ballot.
During the campaign period, the public media is obligated by law to broadcast political advertisements for political parties and national minorities. This is regulated by the Election Law and the Media Law. This year they should be devoting a total of 470 minutes, so almost 8 hours of airtime to this. This means that the parties which have national lists have 78 minutes and 20 seconds each, which is roughly 3 advertisements per day. The lists of national minorities have even less time, a total of 130 minutes, which is 10 minutes 50 seconds per list.
When there is no campaign
Campaigning is only done once every four years, and even then it only lasts for a few weeks. However, the public media service does not neglect the opposition during these in-between times either. During the Russian-Ukrainian war, for example, they announced that they would appeal to the Media Council and the National Election Commission because the opposition has launched a political attack against them: sometimes with physical violence, sometimes through social media, and at times through political pressure to interfere in the editorial work, completely disregarding the legal provisions which apply to them – just like they do to everyone else.
At the same time, the public media service is echoing the government’s propaganda, claiming that the opposition and its joint prime-ministerial candidate Péter Márki-Zay would send soldiers and weapons to Ukraine, they keep referring to the joint opposition as “the left” which wants to force people to starve and freeze by abolishing the cuts in overhead costs, which is "in line with the anti-nuclear power and anti-gas lobby".
There were also multiple instances when for no reason, they simply refused to publish opposition parties’ communiques (DK has won a court case regarding this), and on a recording which was leaked in 2020, the leading editors of the public television are heard saying that their “institution does not support the unified opposition”, and that materials are to be prepared with this in mind. They also added that if someone doesn't like this, they should hand in their resignation.
Furthermore, recently leaked documents showed how one of those closest to Orbán dictated a piece of news to the national news agency. There are also clear instructions stating that other than the communiques of the various ministries, the statements of the companies owned by Lőrinc Mészáros are also to be published word for word.
These documents also show that part of the news about the Covid pandemic have been censored, and that certain information relating to Russia was not allowed to be published.
The publication of foreign criticism of the Hungarian government has been banned, as well as writing about the deteriorating situation of press freedom in the country.