MTI, the public news agency is difficult to avoid in Hungary. Their news are free and the budget of independent media outlets is scarce. Orbánist media tends to reprint MTI’s pre-approved texts word for word – what point is to risk disapproval from above? But even when someone reads relatively independent sources, one can come across MTI’s material, often word for word.
What they choose to talk about thus becomes extremely relevant. And so does what they leave out.
After the farcical removal of MTI’s Brussels correspondence in favor of a completely inexperienced loyalist, Népszava has written about the apparent editorial guidelines of MTI. Which I need to share – not because it comes a surprise to me, but because many abroad still regard Hungary as the normal, up-and-coming country that it was 10 years ago. And now it is this:
1. Foreign affairs editors are not allowed to report about articles about Hungary in the foreign media
I never thought I would miss this. If there was something truly annoying in Hungarian media, it was its tendency of navel-gazing. Every single news room had a Google alert set up for the words “Hungary” and “Hungarian” and immediately wrote about it when it was mentioned. Even if the piece of news was that the Cincinnati airport inaugurated a new bomb sniffing dog, a Hungarian vizsla. (That’s a dog breed, not an ethnicity.) Five minutes after the news went up in the ‘Cuteness’ section of the Cincinnati Herald (just made this up) we would have the translation pressed out by the dumb local media. Parochialism 101.
But now another problem has emerged. The Hungarian vizsla still gets reported immediately, the news may even get a talking head on the evening news opining about the superiority of the Hungarian breeds (not ethnicity – but that, too). But when it comes to mentions of Hungary in a political context, the official reaction of the public broadcaster, radio, news agency, print press is… silence.
Shrill, deafening silence.
Ever since Orbán misjudged his own ability to pretend to be a civilized leader and gave a few interviews, one more disastrous than the other, calling his EPP fellows useful idiots and airing the fart-smelling, parochial conspiracy theories he uses on his captive Hungarian audience. And the reaction was not kind. No matter how much certain western journalists are up his ass (impressed by their own self-importance of knowing Orbán himself and thus letting him to express himself) Orbán still came across as a deluded, self-aggrandizing autocrat who had lost touch so much he doesn’t even know it.
So the new order came: stop reporting until order arrives from above.
It is ridiculous how long they wait with everything before all the approvals arrive and they manage to channel Orbán’s official version in the Fidesz media. But this time the silence grew from a long wait – to infinite news blocking.
I can go and read anything first hand – but I am not Orbán’s captive audience when it comes to foreign media. Others without the language skills or the internet access are.
A few weeks ago the political intendant that sits above the news editors prohibited reporting about the reports of Amnesty Internanional and Human Rights Watch that were not kind to the Hungarian autocracy. The report about the Anti-Defamation Legua reporting about growing antisemitism in Hungary went forgotten and so did the UN report about imprisoning refugee children. Any material containing the name of Orbán has to wait for hours for the go-ahead – many never get it.
The most hilarious articles are now getting their dedicated mocking blogs (like the infamous propaganda mouthpiece TV2 did) because they can start with the official denial and rebuttal – and often even fail to include the material they deny or refuse. Acting stupid and releasing pieces that don’t adhere even to the basic rules of journalism (or grammar) is politically safe. Professionalism makes you lose your job and not get another one in this country.
2. Certain terms must not be mentioned. Ever.
There are no refugees, only migrants. Or better still, terrorists. There is no such think as domestic violence – which is “intra-family violence” in literal Hungarian translation – for a family can only be holy and must not be associated with violence. Nevermind that it is also the most lethal place to be for Hungarian women, who never fell prey to terror-migrants, but more than one a week is killed (minced, dissolved in acid, chopped up, etc) by their precious families. There is also no mentioning of pedophilia among priests – but plenty of it when they discuss the “gay propaganda”. Like putting on Billie Elliot (which they banned) or a rainbow flag on a Coke campaign (which was also removed and paid a fine for homosexual propaganda).
But I think the banned words are the same across the entire Russian infowar empire.
Once a memo was leaked instructing the news room only to use footage of dark-faced, angry males in their incessant reportage about the imaginary migrant siege on our borders. It doesn’t matter if it was angry men talking to a camera after an Indonesian factory fire or a protest on the streets of Egypt, it went down a thousand times on the public broadcaster as “migrants attacking our borders”.
3. Certain phrases must be repeated – dozens of times and it’s being counted!
When I joked about a press spokesman mentioning Soros’ name 15 times in a single sentence in an answer to basically any topic – I wish I was joking. We have seen government spokesman saying Soros’ name 12 times in under a minute.
During the local election campaign, the simple-as-a-rock message of Fidesz was that the non-Fidesz candidate is incompetent. As in incompetent, incompetent, incompetent, incompetent, IN-COM-PE-TENT!!! The word was repeated so frequently on TV, radio, and at least 39 times on every single page of the Fidesz print media, that voters started to make fun of it. But if you are a local Fidesznik, how do you decide when it’s enough? You were told, you do it, you go above and beyond, that can’t hurt you. Failing to follow the order can.
In another instance, a piece of leaked footage showed a reporter of the (loyalist and manually managed) public broadcaster (from the same entity as MTI) telling the interviewee (a constitutional lawyer) to repeat again what he just said, but this time use the term “the guards were protecting” the TV studio. Understood?
– So there is one word I want from you, it is important, OK, so they want us to say that the guards were protecting… protecting, OK?
– So let’s say that for a sentence.
They were talking about the day before when opposition MPs wanted to go into the building of the public broadcaster, but the security guards stopped them, manhandled them, and threw them out of the building. Of the public broadcaster. The one that is not allowed to show a single non-Fidesz person, not even an entertainer, not even a meme cat, not even during election campaign.
4. Turkey according to Erdogan, US according to Trump, Brexit according to Boris
Some topics, even when they don’t include Hungary, can only be discussed from one angle – the fellow Manchurian candidate’s.