articleimg-1
Feb 16, 2018 - Zoltán Kovács

Dear Guardian correspondent: yes, the rules apply to you, too, and your bias is undercutting your credibility

A few simple – and fairly universal -- rules keep order in a press conference, any press conference.

Here’s a basic one: A journalist who wishes to ask a question, requests permission and may pose the question after being granted permission by the spokesperson or press officer. It’s not a free-for-all. Any professional journalist will tell you: that’s the way it works.

Yesterday, Minister János Lázar conducted the 109th Kormányinfo, or government info, a briefing followed by Q&A with journalists that we hold nearly every Thursday afternoon in Budapest. Sometimes these sessions go on for hours because we devote considerable time to responding to questions from the press. Yesterday, we had an unfortunate incident with the Budapest-based correspondent of The Guardian, who seems to be unfamiliar with press conference protocol.

The correspondent, Dan Nolan, as you can see in this video, simply stands up and grabs the microphone from the previous questioner and begins to speak out of turn.

I politely reminded him several times that he was out of order but he continued to ignore the rules. I mention it here because I had to warn him that he would be escorted from the room, if he fails to respect the rules.

Perhaps The Guardian correspondent is not familiar with the rules because he seems to be more partisan activist than professional journalist. Once upon a time, there was a rule for journalists, part of the code of ethics of the profession, to strive to be objective in covering the news and avoid behavior that would seem partisan or biased.

In fact, The New York Times – which as I have written, fails to demonstrate balance in its coverage of Hungary – had to resort to extreme measures recently to rein in its reporters and their behavior on social media. Last October, the editors issued “Updated Social Media Guidelines,” because apparently some of their reporters were showing a little too much of their true colors. “In social media posts,” the NYT editors write, “our journalists must not express partisan opinions, promote political views, endorse candidates, make offensive comments or do anything else that undercuts The Times’s journalistic reputation.”

You know, because in case you professional journalists have forgotten: “If our journalists are perceived as biased or if they engage in editorializing on social media,” according to the guidelines, “that can undercut the credibility of the entire newsroom.”

Mull that for a moment while you browse the Tweets of this particular Guardian correspondent, like this one (how funny to compare Fidesz membership to substance abuse!) or this one or this one. Professional journalist or activist?

Unfortunately – and this is the bigger problem here – this unprofessional bias in the coverage of Hungary is a problem not only at The Guardian.