The News Is Bad in Hungary

By Pamela Druckerman

BUDAPEST — If you’re wondering what attacks on the news media around the world mean for the future of democracy, it’s worth a trip to Budapest. Consider it a cautionary-tale vacation.

When I visited Hungary recently, I knew I was entering a waning democracy that’s become increasingly authoritarian. I knew that Prime Minister Viktor Orban won a third term in April by convincing voters that a phantasmic combination of Muslim migrants, the Hungarian-born billionaire George Soros and European Union bureaucrats was coming to get them.

But I only understood how Mr. Orban pulled this off when I spoke to Hungarian journalists. They explained that Mr. Orban first criticized the press for being biased against him. Then he and his allies took over most of it, and switched to running stories that promote Mr. Orban’s populist agenda and his party, Fidesz.

This happened fast. The investigative website Atlatszo estimates that more than 500 Hungarian media titles are now controlled by Mr. Orban and his friends; in 2015, only 23 of them were. Loyalty trumps experience: Hungary’s biggest media mogul is a former pipe fitter from Mr. Orban’s hometown.

In some cases, Orban allies bought publications and shut them down. One morning in 2016, journalists at Nepszabadsag, one of Hungary’s biggest dailies, were simply locked out of their offices. Its new owner, an Austrian businessman, claimed financial problems; the paper had just run a series of articles exposing government corruption.

Other news organizations were bought and transformed from within. Some now reportedly take their talking points directly from the government. Recent headlines at Origo — once a respected online news site — were a numbing assortment of articles about migrants wreaking havoc on various European cities and conspiracies about Mr. Soros.

Headlines were strikingly similar on the website of Lokal, co-founded in 2015 by one of Mr. Orban’s top advisers. Its free print version, handed out at train and bus stations, is now Hungary’s highest-circulation newspaper.


Story first apppeared in nytimes.com on 1St Nov 2018


Mumbai Press Club
Article posted on 09/02/2019

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