Few things show your irrelevance better than a politician attacking the media for breaking a scandal.
Two years ago a scandal broke in Hungary. Minor or major, doesn’t matter – there are dozens a week. This particular scandal was about the psychiatry ward of a hospital, where fecal matter floated on the corridors as an overflown toilet flooded the corridors with sewage water, and towels were used to keep the water getting into patient wards (failed).
The doors of the bathrooms and toilet wouldn’t close, mold covered the showers and patients were chained to the radiators every night to stay put.
I don’ make this claim – it was in the ombudsman’s report, in very plain and disturbing terms. He demanded the immediate closure of the hospital.
Last week a rat fell on the head of a nurse through a fake ceiling at the same ward, the nurse didn’t bother to go through the usual routes of reporting the incident and waiting for a miracle. He contacted the media. RTL Klub (a rare media channel not yet controlled by the government) duly reported about the rodent. And while they were at it, they look at the hospital and whether anything had been done since the scathing ombudsman report.
Turns out, nothing happened since the same report.
And thus the very same scandal broke again.
Two years ago the ministry grudgingly called for investigation, thereby implicitly admitting that the ombudsman did not write a fake report and take those photos in, say, a kindergarten instead.
Savour it, because you won’t get any such thing anymore…
Because that was two years ago, in an almost innocent age, pre-Trump, pre-Brexit, when “fake news” was a term reserved for actual, invented reports spread by the evil geniuses of Russian and Russian-inspired propaganda.
Since Trump, however, “fake news” is everything that doesn’t serve the dictator’s interests. Autocrats have even learned to use the accusation in their own defense.
Another thing that changed is that authoritarian leaders are gradually losing the last shreds of inhibitions and they don’t even give a dead rat (pun intended) about what you think of them. After all, you can’t do anything against them, can you?
Sure, they want to feel admired. But the surefire way to admiration is not being worthy of it. It is to intimidate your little authoritarian followers by showing that you can done anything – and they can’t achieve anything against you.
So the new central directive is clear:
When a scandal breaks, no apology, no admission, not even empty promises of an investigation to let things die out. Instead, complete denial, even in the face of facts.
Stand on the leaking toilet and say it out loud: “appropriate hygienic conditions”. No, even better. Say “world class Hungarian health care”.
And of course, punish the whistleblower. Publicly.
So instead of investigating the rodent invasion, the minister demands to know how the report leaked. The ombudsman’s two-years-old report disappeared from their website.* And the nurse is in even deeper trouble than working in a rat-infested psy ward where patients walk in sewage water – when they are not chained to the radiators.
A similar thing happened few weeks ago when a bus driver published a photo of the thermometer from his driver’s seat that lacks air conditioning: it showed 45 degrees Celsius. That also prompted an investigation – against the driver. Not the public procurement manager that bought overpriced buses but saved on the air-con, nor the transportation company that routinely failed to order maintenance work on the many reported cases of broken air-conditioners on buses.
Or when a taxman blew the whistle about the government-sanctioned VAT fraud that!s so large it can be measured as share of GDP. He was investigated. The authorities weren’t.
Or when an ethical hacker went to the public transport authority to point out that their new (overpriced but fault) e-ticket system was easily hacked (you could input the price you wanted to pay). He was arrested overnight, his computers (and his friends’ and family’s) confiscated and the 18-year-old questioned for attacking critical infrastructure. Almost for terrorism.
Dismissing reports as fake news puts your (the people who live in that country) interest last
Autocracies never fail to deliver absurd consequences. Investigating who in the crowd dared to yell that the emperor is naked – instead of bringing him a bath robe or thanking the whistleblower – is one such logical, but absurd result of the logic of autocracies.
And the emperor’s helpless followers never fail to roll with the absurd and defend the autocrat who was unfairly attacked by fake news peddling scaremongers.
In an autocracy, everything is about the politicians. Their interests, their little feelings, their status must be protected at all cost. The public genuinely doesn’t matter.
* The original report had disappeared but you can still read the old news reports about the incident. We didn’t go crazy – although when the last independent news outlets will go under government control, these archives, too, will disappear – as we have seen with nol.hu after it was taken over by a Fidesz-friendly businessman.
Featured image: Jeanette Svensson @ Earthporn