In a report published on Monday, George Soros-affiliated Reporters Without Borders included Prime Minister Viktor Orbán among 37 heads of state and government in a list of “press freedom predators.” According to RSF, the common denominator between all of these “predators” is that they created a censorship apparatus and jailed journalists or incited violence against them while making sure “they don’t have blood on their hands.”
“Blood on their hands.” Good grief. Either the “experts” behind this report have bad information or they’re not being completely honest. Or perhaps both.
Jailing journalists and inciting violence against them? Clearly, anyone remotely familiar with Hungarian domestic media will tell you that such allegations are unheard of in post-1989 Hungary. If they were true, media outlets critical of PM Orbán’s government couldn’t possibly have the audience shares that they enjoy across all platforms in Hungary for the past decade.
The RSF report does identify “independent media holdouts,” such as the RTL Klub TV channel; daily Népszava; and weeklies Magyar Narancs, Magyar Hang, “HPV” and online news portal 24.hu, as PM Orbán’s “favorite targets.” (By the by, they clearly meant “HVG” or Heti Világgazdaság, not the sexually transmitted disease “HPV,” but their error beautifully betrays the quality and precision — or lack thereof — of their research.) Still, for all the above independent outlets mentioned, RSF fails to disclose that nearly all of them are leading players in their respective media market segments. So, even if we were to believe that PM Orbán is indeed a “press freedom predator,” we’d have to also concede he is a rather lousy one, given that left-liberal outlets are nevertheless prevailing on the media landscape.
However, let’s take a brief moment to look at the flip side of the coin. While RSF claims that PM Orbán has effectively built up a censorship apparatus in Hungary, in reality, it is the left-liberal thought police (where RSF, by the way, fits right in) that is exercising active censorship over what dissenting voices, such as Prime Minister Orbán, have to say. Here’s what I mean.
In a speech delivered on June 19 at the “Thirty Years of Freedom” conference in Budapest, Prime Minister Orbán laid out seven key tenets with which Hungary will contribute to the ongoing debate about the future of the European Union. As we think it is important to begin a constructive dialogue on the future of the continent, and in order to reach more Europeans with what we want to contribute to this dialogue, the Hungarian government set out to purchase ads in foreign newspapers (and online news sites) all around Europe featuring the PM’s seven points.
While some outlets, including the Danish Jyllands-Posten and Spain’s ABC, had no issue with running the ad campaign, 20 other European media firms have refused to publish our ad. Even worse, in five of those cases, we received no justification whatsoever for their decision, while 15 outlets cited “editorial decisions.” This is more than unacceptable. What is it if not blanket censorship?
Sadly, this was not the first time mainstream media refused to present the other side of the coin. Just two weeks ago, for example, POLITICO Europe refused to publish an Op-Ed by Judit Varga, Hungary’s Minister of Justice, on our new child protection law. And regular readers will recall the day last September when the Hungarian government’s official Twitter account, @abouthungary, went dark for a couple of hours without prior warning or explanation. Hungarian Insider, another official account at the time, was not so fortunate, as it’s been banned ever since. Or how about the time when the Washington Post ignored my Op-Ed on why we celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall? I could go on, the list is extensive, and, sadly, still growing.
Given these instances of media censorship, and taking into account the extent of false reporting from Reporters Without Borders, the question remains: Who’s the real “press freedom predator” at the end of the day?