Hungarian Journalists Stage Hunger Strike to Protest Govt Meddling

By Patrick Glennon
In these Times | The Guardian

A handful of Hungarian journalists are taking a stand against what they see as the government’s heavy-handed influence on the nation’s public media.

Calling themselves the Movement for Honest Reporting, four free speech advocates are dismayed over the declining openness and freedom of Hungary’s press, and have decided to stage a symbolic hunger strike in response.

Journalists (From L) Balazs Nagy Navarro, Peter Virag, Sorel-Arthur Kembe and Aranka Szavuly in front of the headquarters of Hungarian Television Foundation (MTVA) in Budapest on Dec 14th, the fifth day of their hunger strike. On Dec 3rd, the state-run MTV and Duna TV ran a news item in which a govt critic and former chief judge had his face airbrushed out, as if to protect his identity because he faces criminal charges (Credit: Getty Images).

The group is led by television journalist Balázs Nagy-Navarro, along with his colleague Aranka Szávuly. Navarro is the vice-president of Hungary’s Television and Filmmakers Independent Trade Union, though he claims that his participation in the hunger strike is not merely as leader of the union, but in the capacity of a

“citizen, and also a journalist.”

According to Navarro, the group has forsaken nourishment in order to call attention to the

“distortion of information which is going on every day in the public media,”

as well as the misuse of public tax dollars by a media elite who are in league with the current government.

The hunger strike comes in the wake of the government’s increasing influence on the content of the nation’s state-owned TV channel, Magyar Televízió (MTV). Several recent scandals have underscored the problem, such as a December 3 case in which the face of former chief judge Zoltan Lomnici—a prominent critic of current prime minister Viktor Orban’s right-wing government—was pixilated on public news.

That was the “final straw,” Navarro says, that brought about the hunger strike.

The protest comes at a time when freedom of press watchdogs are expressing alarm over the condition of Hungary’s media. Last January, a law was enacted that stipulates “balanced coverage” as a legal mandate of news reporting. As to what that means, no one has a solid answer, but journalists are nervous over the state having power to enforce particular media content.

A November report by Freedom House, a freedom of speech advocacy organization, claims that

“Hungary’s new model of media regulation is creating a chilling effect and undermining freedom of expression.”

The report proceeds to highlight some of journalists’ core concerns:

  • The Hungarian government can now order the disclosure of sources.
  • There is little to no possibility for judicial review of decisions made by the media council or the government.
  • The government’s licensing practices threaten to undermine pluralism in news coverage.

If Navarro and his fellow activists have their way, these issues will enter public debate, paving the way for a re-liberalization of Hungary’s news media.



Sources: In These Times | You Tube via The Guardian (video)


UPDATE 1 (Spiegel, Dec 16):

In reaction to the hunger strike, Director of the Hungary State News Service Gabor Elo was fired, and the Editor-in-Chief who had been responsible for the new segment noted in the article, was transferred to another post. The journalists say they will continue their hunger strike until all the employees responsible for the suppression of speech are dismissed.

 UPDATE 2 (Euranet, Dec 19):

In particular, the journalists are continuing the strike until four editors are dismissed who regularly ask journalists to falsify information.

UPDATE 3 (L’Express, Dec 20):

Hungarian Constitutional Court strikes down law requiring journalists to submit their articles before publication to a Media Oversight Council and to reveal their sources to this Council.

 UPDATE 4 (Le Monde, Dec 21):

Media Oversight Council withdraws the frequency of the only opposition radio.

“This is hard to understand, I would never imagine that a radio station that has been broadcasting for 10 years and with half a million listeners, could be treated like this”

said Andras Arato, Director of Klubradio, in an interview with commercial TV station ATV.



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