Hungarian Media Campaigns against Refugees and Soros PDF Print

Published: 11 April 2018

Country: Hungary

By Angelo Boccato

Screen_Shot_2018-04-11_at_17.53.12After the Hungarian leader Viktor Orban won a landslide victory at the elections on Sunday, many international media commented on his anti-immigration rhetoric, his image of “Europe’s bad boy” and the challenges that his nationalistic policy poses to the EU liberal values.

The anti-migrants and refugees narrative has been pushed all over Europe proving to be a successful tool for the right and far-right movemnets. In Hungary, many media outlets supported the anti-immigration agenda of Orban’s party Fidesz. Both mainstream and social media have played a significant role in it. In a series of articles ahead of our panel at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia “Fascism is back. Is journalism part of the problem or a solution?", the Media Diversity Institute (MDI) has questioned the role of the media in the rise of far-right in Europe.

According to data obtained by Pew Research Center, Hungarians feel threatened and burdened by migration and refugees more than other Europeans. “During its first four years in power, the Fidesz party has taken control of the public service broadcasters, as well as the national news agency. Since 2014 the government led by Viktor Orban has also taken control of the majority of private media, via so-called media oligarchs who are informally associated with the government,” explains Peter Bajomi-Lazar, Head of the Institute of Social Sciences and Associate Professor of Mass Communication at the Budapest Business School.

“There are exceptions,” explains Lazar in an interview for MDI, “such as RTL Klub owned by the German society Bertelsmann. It has an evening news programme that is very critical of the government and remains the most popular TV channel in the country. There are also some news websites where criticism of the government can be found, but the coverage of the majority of the media is pro-government.”

As Làzar further adds, this control on the media has also led to the use of ‘characters assassinations’ campaigns against opposition politicians or intellectuals who make remarks about the government or pro-government journalists.

These campaigns are part of a fake-news industry that is effectively controlled by the government, Làzar points out. The academic also makes reference to a specific episode which occurred in Ocseny, a village in the South-West of the country in October 2017. Local hotelier Zoltan Fenyesi offered a free stay at his guesthouse to a group of refugees, an initiative that provoked a furious public backlash that can be testified by the opinions of the locals expressed in local media. Fenyesi received death threats after his initiative, some locals protested against him while the government officials and many media outlets supported those protests.

However, the most prominent target of these campaigns is the U.S financier George Soros who has been portrayed to the Hungarian public as a puppet-master plotting to open the borders of Hungary and Europe to refugees, through the NGOs supported and funded by him. A billboard campaign promoted by the government was labelled as a proxy for anti-Semitism by the Federation of Hungarian Jewish ( Mazsihisz ).

Judit Bayer, Media Law Professor at the Budapest Business School told MDI that the propaganda’s machine has been very successful. “This is also due to the media ‘divide’ in the country, as people in rural areas have a limited access to the independent media,” says Bayer.

The success of Orbàn’s propaganda campaign politically and through the media, as Bayer points out is also due to the ability to address the emotions of the public and by the fact that it has shifted to the right, effectively occupying much of the space of the far-right party Jòbbik.

After Orban’s victory on Sunday and his third term in office, it is likely to expect that most of the Hungarian media will continue to shift towards stronger right wing, nationalistic and Eurosceptic views.