Monday, December 27, 2010

The Demise of Press Freedom in Hungary.

The New York Times, which rarely takes notice of anything happening in our little corner of the Carpathian basin, ran a story today that just about tells it all: Hungary Waves Off Criticism Over Media Law.Prime Minister Viktor Orban, poised to take over presidency of the European Union is fighting back against criticism from Germany and other countries over a new Hungarian law that some fear could be used to curb press freedom.” That’s putting it very, very lightly. As of January 1, Hungary’s new media law goes into effect, which literally means that the State – embodied in the Ruling Party, FIDESZ – has carte blanche to fine any media reporting that it deems “unbalanced” or offensive to “human dignity.” Particularly the dignity of politicians.
And our new FIDESZ overlords are likely to use it in precisely the Orwellian manner we expect, with statements warning bloggers of the dangers of “unlicensed and irresponsible journalism” and calls for more Hungarian-only content in the Hungarian broadcast media. The Washington Post put it grimly today in an editorial entitled “The Putinization of Hungary:The right-wing Fidesz party of Prime Minister Viktor Orban won 53 percent of the popular vote in an election this year but gained 66 percent of the seats in parliament - enough to change the constitution. It proceeded to take over or attack the authority of every institution it did not control, including the presidency, the Supreme Court and the state audit office; the central bank is now under its assault… Meanwhile, Mr. Orban has overseen passage of two media laws that will put Hungary in a league with Russia and Belarus on press freedom. One puts FIDESZ in control of all state television channels and other public media outlets. The second approved by Parliament on Tuesday creates a powerful Media Council with the authority to regulate newspapers, television, radio and the Internet. The council may issue decrees and impose heavy fines - up to $950,000 - for news coverage it considers "unbalanced" or offensive to "human dignity." Journalists can be forced to reveal their sources, and the council can search editorial offices and require that publishers reveal confidential business informationNow, my little corner of the blogosphere is hardly the kind of publication that I expect will attract much attention from our Illustrious Leaders. First of all, it is in English, and devotes a lot of focus on pastrami sandwiches, Gypsies playing Maramures Jewish music, and Turkish grilled meat. Secondly I already censor myself severely. If any of you know me you know that I also write about Hungarian and regional political matters for publication. Just not here. Why? Others do that better and more efficiently. And others often pay me for it, something I never do for myself. And I sincerely do not want to be identified as somebody who writes only about Hungarian issues. The crux of the media law is that 75% of Hungarians are monolingual. If a party can control the information reaching them, you can forget about the impact that foreign news and opinion have on the 25% who can and do use the internet and foreign sources of info. And now we have MTI - the old centralized News Agency of Commnist times - once agin delegated as the State official news agency, who will compose all the major TV evening news broadcasts centrally so that all us little Magyars can recieve news carefully vetted and positive and devoid of all possible embrassment to our Beloved Leaders. MTI has already begin self censoring international news. Today over at Hungarian Spectrum, Eva Balogh looks at how a news story can be re-translated and edited by MTI to mean something very different from what the original intended. And for all those Hungarians who live as writers and journalists this is a time traveling journey back into the days of Goulash Communism. An essay a few days ago by Imre Para-Kovacs in the online news portal Hírszerző: Egy hatalmas, szocialista segget látunk, barátaim, a tökéletes kádárizmus Kádár nélküli valagát, és nem lehet hibázni: vagy nyaljuk, vagy éhen halunk, nincs középút, hiába vagyunk tehetségesek, hiába vagyunk zsenik, akkor is itt kell élnünk, mert Magyarország a szeretett hazánk, a hely, ahol szívhatunk “We’re seeing a giant, socialist ass, my friends, a form of perfect Kadarism without Kadar, and make no mistake: either we kiss that ass or we starve to death. There is no middle of the road, our talents are worthless, our genius in vain. Because we still have to live here, since Hungary is our beloved homeland, the place where we can suck on it.”The new law takes effect on January 1. I'll still be here. Sucking on it.
(Above: parody of the poster anouncing "National Unity" which FIDESZ requested be posted in all public places in Hungary. The text of the original can be found here in PDF form in English. Hurry up, the lines for your quarter loaf of black bread is starting...)


zmkc said...

Re "If any of you know me, you know that I also write about Hungarian and regional political matters for publication." - It's time Dork Zygotian came out of retirement and took the brunt of the censor for you; I suppose he'd pocket all your fees though

Unknown said...

Very well said. A real pity about what is happening in Hungary right now.

Zvi said...

Time to make Aliyah, brother!

dumneazu said...

You mean... back to the Jewish Homeland... the Bronx?