An old threat of forcing journalists into professional chambers has re-emerged. On the one hand it is yet another distasteful display of cracking down on independent journalism. But it is also a textbook example of how stupid opponents can be sidetracked.
Mandatory membership in professional chambers makes them the unchecked, feudal overlords of entire professions and their practitioners – everywhere in the world. But they are sold to the public as angelic protectors of the public. This is why weaker intellects find it hard to argue against the obvious intention behind registering journalists.
The idea is not new, the threat has been on the table before, but the time is now ripe to revisit the idea. Orbán gave himself a new 48% electoral supermajority in April, and he has always had a beef with the media.
The Fidesz-controlled media has been recently put under one umbrella holding because Orbán reportedly got fed up by his oligarch’s greed (they stole more than their allotment) and that his fronts started to believe they actually ran these outlets. The Fidesz-controlled part of the media now represents the vast majority of outlets and journalists (‘journalist’ is a very generous description though in the case of the Fidesz media) and they are also the ones behind the proposal. They would also eagerly “volunteer” to join the chamber and accept its conditions. One of the conditions being that they must not employ non-registered journalists.
Non-registered journalist could be shut out of government press conferences – making the informal practice official, where independent journalists (or anyone who is prone to ask questions) are banned from Parliament.
The conditions of registration (or the denial thereof) are key. Would you give a license to a journalist who has a high number of lawsuits to his name? They can easily be sold as criminals to the public, even though that’s the hallmark of many investigative journalists. And what if they don’t happen to have a designated degree in journalism? Or not from Fidesz’ shiny, new public service university?
Actually, there is no need for written orders to discriminate against politically unreliable elements. Just give the chamber discretion over whom they welcome among their ranks – a proven way to enforce herd mentality, intimidate newcomers into the expected behavior, and denying livelihood of people who challenge the guild. This time, it would also enforce political subservience.
Possible opponents of the move are already disarmed. A licensed journalist would get a journalist’s minimal wage, for instance, to make it sound like a journalist-welfare measure. Or he could be promised all sorts of privileges that make the chamber easy to sell abroad. The public opinion doesn’t matter in Hungary, but if it did, they would surely be fed some line about journalistic integrity and ‘ethical commissions’, suggesting it is meant to keep things clean. But these guys would definitely get in.
Either way, opponents of the move are already sidetracked into debating whether it is “for the benefit” of journalism and the public or not.
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