21st September 2020
By Wendy Collinson

Building Trust in Journalism – Hungary

The Ethical Journalism Network, together with their partners the Evens Foundation and Fritt Ord Foundation, have produced the following report which looks at the challenges that the media are facing in Hungary. This report is part of a series of reports that will be published over the coming months on the media situations in Poland, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Czech Republic. It includes a set of clear recommendations for the media and policy communities to take forward.

This policy report provides an overview of the challenges and opportunities that the media are facing in Hungary. Based on a number of key stakeholder interviews that took place in Hungary, it finds that the Hungarian government’s strategy of ‘media capture’ has created a landscape where freedom of the press is under attack and the possibility for the emergence of alternative voices and narratives is diminishing. Since 2010, there has been an ongoing attack on media financing including a concerted effort to control advertising markets, commercial revenue streams and all forms of public money to support the media. The media market is dominated by the public media, a propaganda machine for the government, and pro-government media that is supported by oligarchs and patrons of the current governing party. Independent media platforms live in fear of financial crisis and even buyout by pro-government media moguls and tycoons. This environment sees ethical media principles challenged and some defining aspects of professional journalistic practice, such as sourcing and accuracy, compromised. This is perpetuating the already endemic lack of trust in the media amongst a highly fragmented Hungarian public.

The financial crisis in the Hungarian media, which was generated and perpetuated by powerful governmental elites, is being used as a means of controlling the media and freedom of press in the country.

The public media has become a blatant propaganda tool for the government, which is further propped up by pro-government media platforms, which have been bought and financed by associates affiliated to the current ruling Fidesz party.

Independent media are not only facing financial constraints and the pressure to comply and avoid certain topics but are also constrained by having to respond to the dominant narrative of the regime and its affiliates. As a result, there are very few genuine platforms for discussion and debate.

In a search for alternative revenue streams, a culture of paying for content is developing. However, this tends to see media outlets swapping one source of funding for another rather than developing diverse and multiple ways of generating sustainable income.

There is a lack of agreed professional standards by which the media are operating with little work being done on self-regulation or promoting journalists’ associations and unions. This financially competitive arena has exasperated an underlying lack of collegiality which is undermining any chances for collaboration and cooperation.

While there is no censorship in the classic sense, a lack of access to information, public bodies, ministries and government sources for non-pro-government media mars the possibility for balanced, impartial content to be created or for political processes and elections to be
covered in a fair and equitable way.

Hate speech is common in the pro-government and public media, as is disinformation. The focus of both are highly political with anti-European Union and anti-NGO rhetoric most dominant.

Hungary is following a global trend where trust in public institutions is at a low level and the media has become victim of this trend. Bias and lack of independence in the media is sustaining the environment of declining expectations from the media.

There are very few specific journalism degrees available from Hungarian universities with specialisations mainly offered as a part of other degrees such as communications studies. The number of journalists working in academic institutions are scarce. Media degrees are highly theoretical and internship programmes are limited.

Download the report

The Evens Foundation

The Evens Foundation aims to contribute to rethinking and building a European reality committed to the values of diversity, freedom, responsibility and solidarity. We identify and support innovative ideas and achievements through our prizes and calls, initiate experimental projects bridging the gap between research and practice, and facilitate knowledge exchange through our lectures, seminars, debates and publications.

The Fritt Ord Foundation

The Fritt Ord Foundation is a private non-profit foundation that is intended to protect and promote freedom of expression, public debate, art and culture. We work internationally, concentrating on projects directly related to freedom of expression and free journalism.