A few weeks ago a journalist spilled the beans about censorship at a local paper. He wrote an open letter describing what happened, but the creepiest part wasn’t that someone gets fired for wanting to report about a fact that is taking place right in front of his nose.
The scariest part was as he casually mentioned that sometimes politicians didn’t even bother to “phone down” to the editors to demand the removal of something offensive. Sometimes they simply remove it themselves…
“As my former editor put it, the paper was supposed to put the interest of Kaposvár and its inhabitants first. In practice it meant that we couldn’t write or share any news item that would hurt the reputation of the government, Kaposvár, the town’s leaders, or Károly Szita <long-time Fidesz mayor and strongman – translator>. If something still slipped through, or a piece was retroactively deemed “sensitive” by the town’s leadership, then a phone call came, demanding the immediate removal of the item – and that was the better case. In worse cases, an employee of the town leadership would simply login as the admin of the portal and delete the unwanted piece without warning or question.“
The journalist, Erik Bogdán, started his letter with the obvious: as a journalist outside of Budapest you don’t have many options. He joined one of the local news sites that belong to the Fidesz media empire, KaposvárMost.hu, over a year ago, writing about culture and events.
He tried to stay away from any kind of political commentary because of the above mentioned rules but from time to time he was required to write articles that went against his own conscience. And once a week he was on overnight duty for breaking news and that’s when he encountered a dilemma.
There were protests taking place in Kaposvár on December 18, 2018 and protesters went to KaposvárMost’s building. He thought it was OK to simply report the fact that there are protesters outside their building. He was wrong.
For context, there were protests in Budapest at the same time and protesters there have been trying to do the same: to get the public TV let opposition MPs into the studio and talk about their demands. And the state-funded public TV simply reported that the protests were over, broadcasting a live talk show about parrots, while tens of thousands were waiting outside.
But Bogdán argued that reporting about the fact of the protests was okay as long as he didn’t mention what the protests were about. His editor disagreed, stating that they would only ever report about it if the town’s leadership told them to do so.
After the conversation Bogdán went home. That was when he realized that his access as admin to the portal and its Facebook page had been revoked. It wasn’t even the newspaper that kicked him out – it was the town’s leadership, without asking anyone at the paper. They were suspicious that the young journalist might still write something about the protests.
After the events he resigned. We will probably never hear about him again.
Featured image: Local news portals all over the country just happen to come up with the same front page every day. This one was on election day, the headline under Orbán’s face informing readers “Both your votes to Fidesz!” Because subtle…