Journalists of the public broadcaster blow the whistle anonymously and explain how it is not their fault and someone would have done it anyway, so it’s better that they did it.
Radio Free Europe is a Cold War relic. It was used to reach the ears of populations living under dictatorship. Today it is revived (as a news site, not an actual radio) and it restarted in Hungarian. Last week they ran an anonymous interview with three employees of the Hungarian state TV in which they revealed how political pressure is applied in the foreign affairs section where they work. (The day after they published a recording of a meeting where it can actually be heard in disgusting details.)
In 2014, when the renewed state TV was assembled, they hired anyone. It was easier to corrupt the journalistic standards of people who have never heard of them in the first place. The new employees were new, young, inexperienced, and people who could never get a job anywhere else – especially not so well-paid. They were grateful and they wanted to believe. That was their excuse.
But there were also older journalists on the team. They also present fifty shades of excuses. Some stayed because they had children, some because they didn’t. Some had a house, some didn’t. Some had family, some did not. It is as if the excuses were fitted only after the decision was made. Strange.
But their position became untenable – even by their own, very low standards – when every single journalist of index.hu, the country’s most important news portal stood up in protest of political pressure that was nothing compared to what was going on at the state TV.
The public broadcaster – alongside many Orbanizes media outlets – is an uncritical, uninhibited propaganda mouthpiece of Orbánism.
But according to the three whistleblowers some were trying to stay out of it by not contributing to any political piece. Which becomes impossible as an autocracy progresses, and even the type of tomato you buy becomes politicized. Someone in the foreign affairs newsroom of a television can not even pretend to stay out of it and thereby remain pure despite the political cesspit they are working in.
A TV that routinely runs unchecked YouTube videos claiming that the dark-skinned person on them is a Soros-funded criminal migrant should not claim the moral high ground. A TV that routinely runs clips they know are not about criminal migrants at all, clips that are not even recent, someone just found them on YouTube and sent them to the boss who wanted to see it in the evening news, should not have a claim on public service. Yet, the workers of this newsroom apparently harbored some illusion that they can stay out of it if they just don’t write the m-word themselves. And they could apparently do it for a while, because politically touchy subjects went to the loyalist editors anyway.
Brave, brave people. My favorite is the one who describes how people were allegedly telling him how great it is that he is working there, and not someone else without a conscience. Awwww… And he says that while 101% of the output was serious hatemongering. But it’s great that it was done by people who didn’t believe in it. I am really relieved. Much better now, thank you.
Apart from the whitewashing, the anonymous whistleblowers also describe how propaganda is made – in case you can’t imagine:
How to edit a migrant news piece:
- Start with the most brutal footage. For example, a migrant stabbing, killing or shouting Allahu Akbar.
- Tell the story
- Add how many millions of migrants have already arrived in Europe and there are millions en route through the Balkan route, knocking on Hungary’s borders.
- Follow up with a piece about how many wanted to break in through the border but our policemen stopped them.
- A loyalist security expert repeats and reinforces it.
- Never use the word “refugee”, not even about legal refugees. Even if their grandparents were born in Europe, they were to be called “migrants”.
- Even normal Western European crime must be presented as migrant criminality. (But when the perpetrator is extreme right, that must be omitted.)
- Produce one migrant piece even when nothing migrant-relevant happened that day.
- Use whatever video is on YouTube. Even if unchecked. Even if it is about something else entirely.
- No corrections, not even when a viewer calls in.
Other bits from the interview:
- The easiest way to create propaganda is to give political topics to trusty loyalists who will turn it into propaganda.
- Banned topics were human righs movements and they invited instead the government’s own anti-civil liberty “think tank” to “deliver the punches” – i.e. to say the things and adjectives a reporter can not.
- Greta Thunberg was only mentioned with permission and only in a bad light.
- Self-censorship. After a while you don’t keep submitting banned topics because you don’t want to push too hard and get fired for acting like the white knight.
- No positive word about the Pride.
- Verbal instructions on how to spin stories were framed “there’s demand for this”. The guy talking about this actually likens it to the mob. When they claimed there was “audience request”, it was from the channel’s director, who called down while watching the news and told them how to do it. His nick name is Pitbull.
- October 30, 2020 – There’s an editor’s order to make a long segment about the pandemic abroad and make it look like it is much worse than in Hungary. (Again, you don’t need a leaked email to figure this out. Orbán’s line has been how the West is worse than his despotism, and the pandemic is no different. He is exactly like the communist party secretaries were before 1989.)
- When the director of the channel said “they told us to…” he meant Fidesz.
- People pick up the phone trembling when higher-ups call.
- Orders also come via email. (Leaked to Dario Free Europe)
- In 2016, when Orbán endorsed Trump, they were also ordered to take him seriously and started faking reports about him, like hiding how few people attended his rallies.
- No party can be called “extremist”. Who are we to tell? At least on the right. Le Pen’s party was suddenly not “extreme right”, just right wing. But whoever disagreed with Orbán was “extreme left”.
- Left wing politicians were alsways called “left wing” when a scandal broke about them. Right wing ones were not mentioned. Macron had to be called “former socialist minister” and never “centrist”.
- Once they were ordered to find countries were people are protesting against Soros, and when they didn’t find any, they were sent to North Macedonia, where a handful of people were doing that, from a freshly established organizations.
- They had to lie that foreign papers “suspect George Soros” behind migration.
- They had to quote a number of fake news portals.
- When Swedish minister Annika Strandhäll criticised Orbán, they were ordered to use the worst photos of her. And one where she was in the company of an LMBT singer – the horror!
- The channel’s leadership knew the political loyalty and connections of everyone – but the journalists didn’t know that about each other. No one could be trusted.
- “We definitely need a piece where people of foreign origin are shown in a negative light.”
And this scoop doesn’t surprise anyone who had ever seen a minute of public television. In fact, I could have written that recipe for migrant-bashing propaganda pieces myself by just looking at their evening news.
And these are not the first employees of the public broadcaster who blew the whistle abroad – without their names or faces. Two of them talked to Al Jazeera a few years ago, also with their faces covered and their voices distorted. Because that is how a journalist threatened by a maffia speaks.