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Nov 13, 2017

When the Washington Post, and its anti-Hungary echo chamber, refuses to run my response

Echo chambers – the lack of different opinions on a certain issue – are threatening people’s right to information in the modern age. In today’s world of social media saturated with fake news and sensational, online media fighting for page views, the echo chamber effect is growing, and those media outlets that pride themselves on professional journalism have a special obligation to restore a little reason to the discourse.

The Washington Post, unfortunately, is making the echo chamber bigger, especially when covering Hungary. It’s sad to see that happen to the once prestigious paper.  

It now seems impossible to find a balanced view on Hungary in the pages of the Post. Last week, in a particularly stark illustration, the paper ran two Hungary-bashing articles. Early in the week, we were treated to some pathetic name-calling commentary by a member of the editorial board.

Later in the week, WP staff writer Max Bearak, well known for his pro-immigration stance in his work for the New York Times and Al Jazeera, reported on Hungary’s national consultation, painting the Hungarian government as “hatemongering” for daring to question Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros’ pro-migration agenda. Hungary, of course, was portrayed in a critical light for asking the people’s opinion on the migration crisis, one of the most important issues confronting Europe today.

Fine. We have our critics. But we also deserve a chance to respond. What really disappointed me was the response I received when I asked for some space to have our say. Both times we were turned down, the editors saying that they “run letters only in response to items that run in the print edition,” which is a little strange given the fact that the print edition is the one with limited space. Instead, the editor suggested, we could just post a response in the comments section below the article… It was the ‘sorry not sorry’ editor’s equivalent of showing me the middle finger.

What ever happened to audiatur et altera pars – may the other side also be heard? Once upon a time, it was a guiding principle in any democracy. In a court trial, no decision is taken without listening to all parties involved in order to reach a reasonable conclusion. Without giving all parties the right to speak, no fair judgment can be made.

The Post, as a privately-owned newspaper, has the right to publish – or reject – whatever it pleases. But standards of professional journalism once held that the side being criticized should have a chance to respond, particularly to shed light on the other side of the argument. That would also make it more interesting for the readers who would have a chance to consider both sides and come to their own conclusion.

Unfortunately, in an age when ideology trumps reason, that is exactly what the likes of The Washington Post are determined to avoid. They have determined that there are arguments so remote from their own reasoned way of thinking that they don’t deserve a hearing. By limiting the reader’s access to information, they inflate their mainstream media echo chamber, where opinions that are different are censored.

For Hungarians older than 30, this is all too familiar. It smacks of the censorship we knew under communism, when newspapers published only the party line, and those who wanted to know the truth had to “read between the lines” because every once in a while, a smart journalist or editor could hide the real information in the published texts, escaping the censor’s notice.

In the 21st century, it is sad to see once prestigious publications like The Washington Post turn their back on basic democratic principles like plurality and the principle of letting the other side have their say. By creating these echo chambers where no dissenting voices can be heard, they engage in a not-so-subtle form of censorship, and that’s worrying.