Media, Politics, Ideology in Hungary

CímMedia, Politics, Ideology in Hungary
Közlemény típusaElőadás / Presentation
SzerzőkHegedűs, István
Teljes szöveg

Media, Politics, Ideology in Hungary

The foundation of a democratic media system has become one of the most sensitive political issues after the regime-change in Hungary. The multilevel media war, which broke out under the right wing coalition government in the early nineties, has never ended. Then, the conservatives made an attempt to control the public television and radio, which had a monopoly in the absence of a media law. The new regulations were passed at the end of 1995 and placed political fighting into new media boards behind the scenes. After the elections in 1998, these boards have been occupied with the delegates of the current neo-conservative government, led by Fidesz - Hungarian Civic Party, with no participation of the opposition.
The Hungarian version of media power theories, elaborated by political ideologists and party politicians, claims that left-liberal elite dominates the media. They argue that the majority of the journalists' community belongs to the ex-communist clientele system. According to these media critics, the media, the mouthpieces of the socialist party and/or the liberal free democrats, distort the political orientation of the citizens. That is why prime minister Orbán spoke about the necessity of a new 'balance' in the field of the media in 1998. This negative attitude of leading politicians to the media originates from 1993-94, when Fidesz, once a liberal political formation, gradually lost its high popularity before the parliamentarian elections. The media has become the scapegoat for the defeat since then.
In a democratic society the norms of quality journalism might be in conflict with each other in everyday practice. Media analysers have continuously challenged the fundamental notion of the profession, objectivity. The media select, interpret and, perhaps, frame the news, which come from the political arena. But the charges of conscious political bias against media outlets and journalists seem to be excuses for political pressure and measures against the freedom of the media in Hungary or elsewhere in Central and Eastern Europe.
Today, there is a high diversity of political tendencies in the Hungarian media as a whole. Democratic norms of journalism, on the other hand, have not rooted deeply. Instead, traditional superficiality, 'common sense' stereotyped cultural framework and non-professional attitudes characterise the media, including the quality newspapers, when dealing with high politics. In contrast to conspiracy theories about the rule of a mediocracy, the press often runs after the political events, without reflecting and analysing fast changes in a small applicant country to the European Union.

The media in Hungary before and under the regime-change

Political transition and regime-change came together with political struggles for the freedom of the press in Hungary between 1988 and 1990. Like in other countries of the former eastern block, the collapse of the one-party control over the media was one of the key elements of the democratisation process. During the last decade of János Kádár's soft dictatorship the power of the informal and administrative rule of the partystate apparatus has already gradually weakened, albeit survived until the end of the era. Intellectuals of the democratic opposition could only publish their political analyses in the underground samizdat. It often happened to dissident non-conformist writers, artists and scientists that they received a punishment called 'silencium', hence, a ban from any public appearance. But even in the territory of the stateparty media - and there was no private or civil media - groups of journalists and editors have taken their profession seriously and fought for an open flow of information in the press. They used self-censorship to be able to outwit the vigilance of the Department of Agitation and Propaganda of the Central Committee of the Hungarian Socialist Workers Party as well as to convince their orthodox or cautious colleagues in order to leak news 'between the lines' (Hegedűs 2001a). Reform-minded journalists also played an important role in the political development of the transition period. At this point, samizdat literatures became 'legal' and in the same time also redundant. New grass root journals have emerged whilst the privatisation of the old newspapers has begun. In many cases, however, privatisation occurred very rapidly under the control of the central or local organs of the former communist 'proprietors'. This process resulted in presumably silent agreements that foreign investors made no personal changes in the editorial boards.
After the first free elections in 1990, the creation of a new institutional framework and a legal basis for a competitive media system, especially for the electronic media, has become one of the hottest political issues in the country. Eventually it happened already at the roundtable negotiations between the opposition and the power holders as well as inside the opposition forces in 1989 that they could not reach an agreement about the media. The question, who and how would be delegated to a new board that should supervise the national public media, which, then, had a monopoly in broadcasting nation wide, remained open. The winner of the elections, the Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF) made a fast compromise with the strongest opposition party, the liberal Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ) about important constitutional and legislative changes. Moreover, the new chairmen of the Hungarian Radio and Television were selected by a consensus of all parliamentarian parties. But the parliamentarian group of MDF did not support the creation of a new supervising committee for the public media. In the next months the political atmosphere became very tense and the first Hungarian media war broke out.

Two media wars in Hungary

There is no place to recall all ups and downs of the 3-4 years long heavy political fighting until 19994 (see: Hankiss 1993, Farkas 1994, and Bajomi-Lázár 2001). Here I am going to differentiate the levels of the conflicts in the first, and, then, in the second media wars and to summarise the ways and means how the conservative political blocks tried to bring the media under its domination in both cases. In the next chapter I will deal with the question what have been the ideological assumptions of the right wing governments about the media? They legitimised, namely, the proclamation of Imre Kónya, leader of the parliamentarian group of MDF after the first free elections, that "according to my conviction it is feasible to make radical changes in the political disposition and mentality of the Hungarian Radio and Television" (Kónya 1991).
The levels of the first media war were the following:
1. The first level of the power game was the government's attack against the independence of the public media institutions. The government declared itself the employer of the presidents of the two institutions by making reference to a (communist) government resolution of 1974. The parliamentarian factions of the governing coalition held hearings and exerted strong political pressure on these officeholders in order to make them change the structure, personal and rhetoric of the media programs. The government formed an investigative committee from its ministers, which questioned the contracts signed with business partners and also held hearings where the president of the TV had to report about his activity. Beside these methods based on the parliamentary majority of the government, the police took action and arrested the financial leaders of the television for a while. Finally, in January 1993, economic tools became effective: the two presidents stepped back when the parliament roughly cut the budgets of the two media.
2. The government also criticised and attacked the mainstream journalist community because of the media presentation of its politics. The MDF-led coalition supported the creation of a pro-governmental right-wing association of journalists. The tension between the two groups increased when journalists were dismissed, particularly from the national radio, under the regime of the former vice-president who was loyal to the government. The political actions were not limited to the electronic media: the government strongly influenced the privatisation process and sold Magyar Nemzet to the conservative Hersant group ignoring the strike of the journalists of the newspaper. The coalition also founded a pro-governmental daily and placed partisan editors to the leading positions of state-owned journals.
3. The media war can be described as the most desperate and spectacular battle between the government and its opposition during this parliamentarian period. The political, intellectual and moral conflicts strongly widened the gap between the political parties of the right and the liberal as well as the socialist forces. All political parties put media issues on the top of their agenda. The fighting also became personalised for the public: because of its constitutional implications, the media war was transformed into a rivalry between prime minister József Antall and the free democrat President of the Republic, Árpád Góncz.
4. The legal level included the Constitutional Court, which had to solve delicate problems like the right of the president to think about the implementation of the prime minister's proposals as well as to decide about the anti-constitutional character of the above mentioned old government resolution .
5. The media war has become a part of a broader cultural war between liberal 'urban' intellectuals and their conservative 'popular' counterparts. This traditional divergence inside the Hungarian elite survived the communist period. Followers of the government's anti-liberal policy line sharply attacked the non-national spirit and the commercialisation of the media.
6. The political tension spread over to the streets. Both pro-governmental and anti-governmental groups organised demonstrations and were able to mobilise non-partisan masses. Ironically, the anti-governmental movement, the Democratic Charter, helped the rapprochement between the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP), the ex-communists, and SZDSZ, the party of the former democratic opposition.
In consequence of the political struggles, the parliament failed to pass the media law. It happened only after the victory of the socialists at the parliamentarian elections in 1994. MSZP formed a coalition government with the free democrats. The new law, which was passed at the end of 1995, finally gave free way to the foundation of the dual - public and private - system in the electronic media. It also created new big supervising boards over the public media after many years of heavy debates about this issue. International media monitoring organisations welcomed the changes, especially the emergence of private commercial televisions. "In sum, the absence of a single daily newspaper, radio or TV station that shows a clear pro-government bias, the reporting of corruption scandals involving MPs and ministers of the Horn cabinet, as well as the positive international reaction to the new media law, all suggest that the media is editorially independent from the government and its reporting is objective" (Karatnycky, Motyl, and Shor 1997:184), as Freedom House reported.
"Yet laws alone cannot guarantee media independence. They must be accompanied by the political culture of democracy and by the ability of public opinion and civil society to make politicians and administration pay a high political price for any violation of that independence" (Jakubowicz 1996:17). The Hungarian media law expressed the lack of trust between the political parties with its over-regulations and with the oversized boards. It was a 'not a war, not a peace' situation: most of the political in fighting continued inside the new boards. Delegates of the political parties behaved in most cases not as media experts, but as 'party soldiers'. In addition, prime minister Gyula Horn's party often co-operated with the conservative opposition behind the scenes and ignored its coalition partner SZDSZ during the selection process of the new presidents for the public TV and radio. As a consequence of this method, party political influence on the public media has not disappeared, just became less transparent. On the other hand, the commercial networks have quickly won the competition and the public television has fallen into a deep crisis.
In 1998, after the parliamentarian elections, Fidesz - Hungarian Civic Party could form a new right wing coalition government. Fidesz, founded in 1988 as an anticommunist political group of young people, had a strong liberal tendency till the early nineties, but gradually shifted to a neo-conservative political identity. As Viktor Orbán took over the Prime Minister position, Fidesz had already walked along this way. After the victory, Orbán proclaimed that "a new balance in the fields of the media, the economy, and cultural life should be created" (Hegedűs 1999). His objective has become to tear the political society in two and to take the single leading position on the right side of the political scale. Fidesz has used governing positions for state intervention, including in the field of the media, in order to strengthen its 'civic' clientele system and to 'contain' the ex-communist-liberal elite.
A new, although less spectacular media war broke out with significant similarities and charactersitic differences compared to the first fightings.
1. The government behaved as if it had nothing to do with any decisions related to the media. However, the government itself had negotiations with foreign media enterpreneurs. These talks aimed, unsuccessfully, the strengthening of the conservative printed media either by buying up a liberal paper and transforming it to a right wing product or by selling state-owned newspapers to private conservative circles. Magyar Nemzet, sponsored by state-owned banks till 2000, was finally sold to a Hungarian company, well-known about its close links to the major ruling party. In the case of the public media, the coalition parties used their monopoly in the media boards to select loyal leaders for key positions of these institutions. Ironically, the positions in the media boards seemed to be very important for Fidesz, inspite of the fact that the audience of the public television fell under ten percent of the total TV watchers by the end of the nineties. In 2001, an editor of the Hungarian radio became its president: Katalin Kondor made non-provocative (token) interviews with the prime minister every Wednesday morning for three years - without giving space for the opposition to react. Moroeover, the new president of the public television is a Fidesz representative in a Budapest district local government.
2. The government made a divison line between loyal and anti-governmental journalists. Prime minister Orbán has chosen to be active only in the public media controlled by the government. Other leaders of Fidesz have given interviews very rarely to those media, which are supposed to be under left-liberal influence - and former party leader László Kövér declared that nine-tenth of the media was hostile to the government. The public television had to give notice to more than thousand employees, but many well known journalists were probably dismissed because of their political views. Pro-governmental periodicals, like the radical right wing Demokrata and the moderate Heti Válasz have been sponsored from the central budget. The daily Magyar Nemzet has become a partisan paper and its new editors broke off relations with those conservative publicists as well, who had been less enthusiastic about every political step of Fidesz - Hungarian Civic Party. Concerning the 'hostile' media, Fidesz leaders often went to the court when they found a pretext in the wording of some invistigative reports dealing with their corruption scandals.
3. The parliamentarian parties crossed swords first of all in the battles for the media boards. Here, the coalition government co-operated in a hidden way with the radical right wing Hungarian Truth and Life Party (MIÉP). First, they gained a two-third majority in most of the old boards, then, at the re-elections of the boards, MIÉP blocked the candidation process of the opposition side. As a compensation, MIÉP, which called itself the 'opposition of the opposition', received important editorial positions from the leaders of the public TV and the radio. These political fightings behind the scenes, however, were less personalised compared to the first media war.
4. Once again, the Constitutional Court played an imprtant role in the political struggles related to the public media. Its most contraversial decision, which concluded that the most important aspect in the debate was to sustain the functioning of the supervising institutions of the public media, even if they were politically not balanced between the government and the opposition sides, was accepted by a six to five majority. Since 1998, the coalition parties tried to exert pressure on the media with legislative methods when they considered "to legally enforce the right to reply not only with regard to facts and information, but also to opinion and editorials" (Fritz 1999). In 2001, the parliament finally passed a law with a similar content.
5. Although the struggles on the field of the media were linked with other debates on ideological-cultural issues, the government was more cautious to declare a 'Kulturkampf' compared to the political practise of the first right wing coalition. Prime minister Orbán has mixed traditional and symbolic conservative values with pragmatic statements, which are often consciously presented on low intellectual levels. The implementation of modern PR rhetoric has been used by the government as a method to stop 'needless' political debates with the opposition and to avoid any reaction to the fact findings of the media.
6. The streets remained empty. Party political conflicts, including the debates on the freedom of the media, could not mobilise masses any more: the society seems to be exhausted. Although, we need to be very careful with such conclusions: the demonstations in Prague half a year ago occured quite surprisingly.
It is time now to discuss the ideological background of the political behaviour of the two governments in both media wars.

Media power in Hungary?

During the early nineties, all politicians and supporters of the Hungarian conservative parties agreed that the media disliked them and began a negative campaign against the political line of the coalition government on the first day after the free elections. They could easily find evidence of the hostile attitudes of the journalists, who misinterpreted their words, asked unpleasant and aggressive questions, criticized the politics of the government and agreed with opposition views. In his study, Imre Kónya claimed that its discredited representatives, who exerted spiritual terror on their colleagues, dominated the 'profession' of the journalists. He argued that "the majority of the opinion leaders sympathised with the political opponents of MDF in advance" (Kónya 1991). Here, the link between the journalists and some political parties (it is not clear, whether the leader of the parliamentarian group referred to the socialists or the free democrats, or both of them) was the ideological relationship and nothing else. This political orientation, however, was a given fact for Kónya: the government could not have changed it even with a more friendlily behaviour to the media.
As the media war intensified, other media critics and ideologists, including István Csurka, the radical right wing politician of MDF, placed openly the journalists and the two opposition parties into one political camp in their analyses. These works, however, rooted in the 'traditional' liberal-bolshevik conspiracy theory. The argumentation has become more influential when the old perception was refreshed with the media power theory. The political scientist Béla Pokol elaborated the most comprehensive studies from this new perspective. He shifted from the position that the media were controlled by MSZP and SZDSZ hand in hand when speaking about the "gradually crystallising free democrat media power in a united structure with intertwined banking groups" (Pokol 1995:7). Pokol also gave explanation to the genesis of the media power as an independent power resource. His argumentation is the following. The most influential political press and the electronic media were concentrated in the oversized capital under the previous regime. This centralisation in Budapest also meant that the leading journalists had similar sociological background as many liberal intellectuals. Their homogeneous socialisation made them support the same political ideas and values. That is why the star journalists have formed together with the free democrat intellectuals a very narrow media elite, which controls and leads public opinion. This development has been a very dangerous process, since Hungarian citizens do not have enough political experiences because of forty year long break in democratic tradition. The party identification of the people is still very weak and fragile. In such a case, the modern media power can increasingly manipulate the people sustaining the rule of 'non-national' political forces as well as ensuring the overrepresentation of the liberal free democrats in politics. In order to break the media power of this entity, which also paralyses the political and spiritual-cultural spheres in Hungary, constitutionally acceptable methods should be implemented. In the field of the printed press, an advertisement tax could be introduced compensating the unequal competition on the market. After the formation of a new fund from this tax income, the media of the 'national side' should be supported in order to create a new balance in the territory of the media.
Some other authors, like József Debreczeni, have described the technical methods of the media power in everyday politics. According to his interpretation, the media continuously repeat their most important messages. There is a news-chain, an exchange of 'facts' and 'issues' among the newspapers. The journalists systematically come back to "heavy problems as if the public was deeply worrying about them" (Debreczeni 1994). In fact, these are the journalists and some, but always the same, opinion-leaders, putting their own (false) political concepts and scenarios on the agenda. The artificially created news is hammered day by day by the most influential media outlets. Moreover, the media have a lot of possibilities to influence and misinform the citizens by making advantageous or disadvantageous photographs about politicians. The most effective weapon in the hands of the media is the language: "Who owns the media, owns the language of public life, and, through it, owns morality and justice as well" (Debreczeni 1994).
According to Debreczeni, the media have the power to construct a positive image of a political group - but its political line has to express the ideas and the will of the media elite. Namely, the media can also destroy the fortune of political forces. Exactly this happened to Fidesz in the early nineties. The young democrats had been the favourites of the media for two-three years. Since they did not join the anti-conservative block of the other two opposition parties, the media started an 'assault-fire' against Fidesz and finally could 'flatten out' its non-conformist politicians before the parliamentarian elections in 1994 (Debreczeni 1993). Fidesz leaders have drawn similar lessons from these turbulent years in politics. They explained their defeat as the consequence of the heavy attacks of the media and the negative campaign of the liberal intellectuals, who belonged to the free democrats' cultural-political circle. Orbán and Kövér now shared the former feelings of the MDP politicians about a hostile media environment. When they proclaimed their slogan 'more than government-change, less than regime-change' before the new parliamentarian elections, Fidesz was already determined to make drastic measures in order to limit and break the power of the socialist-liberal media .
After the victory of Fidesz - Hungarian Civic Party and its conservative allies in 1998, the media power theory lost a big part of its convincing empirical strength. Many media analysers have started to argue from the opposite direction, speaking about the professional media use of the Prime Minister, the perfect PR messages of the government, and the excellent agenda-setting methods of the major ruling party. However, media power theory did not disappear: right wing ideologists have continuously shown up the evidence of the anti-governmental tendencies and the left-liberal bias of the printed press and the commercial media.
The Hungarian media power theory is not new. Interestingly enough, it can build on the old Marxist analogy, which claims that all political power comes from economic power. Albeit, the most furious charge in the radical version of the media power theory, the concept of a small 'non-national' media elite that rules the country, has close links to classical extreme right wing conspiracy theories. In this sense, media power theory only adjusted the old ideology to modern circumstances. But even more moderate followers of the doctrine have insisted that the hostile media play a decisive role in the formation of citizens' political views. This deep conviction has given the ideological basis for rough, hysteric political actions and statements of both right wing governments against the independence of the media during their media wars.
The Hungarian case is not exceptional, either. According to Slavko Splichal, "[t]he present political scene is highly ideologized. Contrary to West Europe, where a rather stable balance of power among political parties exists, the new governments in East Europe are burdened with anticommunism and antibolshevism and with a fear of losing power. In particular, they consider the most influential national media as the footing of the former power elites, and they justify the authoritative control of, and penetration into, the media in terms of 'democratization'" (Splichal 1994:49). And the free media might quickly become the only scapegoat whenever political leaders face new failures. "If it happens in major established democracies, why be surprised that Vladimir Putin winds up blaming the press for misrepresenting the Kursk tragedy as a scandalous exaggeration by the press?" (Koven 2000).
Let us consider now the relationship between modern journalism and the democratic political system from liberal normative assumptions.

Journalism and democracy

Free and independent media are inseparable from modern democratic societies. International agreements, constitutions and media laws in most countries of the world guarantee freedom of expression. Political journalism has the task to inform the citizens about public affairs and to involve them into the decision-making processes of the political community as well as to guard against abuses of power by officeholders. The media should also create a market place for alternative ideas of dissenting political parties, interest groups or non-governmental organisations. That is why the associations of journalists and editors everywhere have set up high standards of journalistic quality as well as professional rules.
This normative description about the role of the mass media in democratic societies, however, contains easily conflicting goals for advocate journalists. "There are tensions, for example, between the principle of editorial autonomy and the ideal of offering individuals and groups wide-ranging access to the media" (Gurewitch and Blumler 1990:271). Similarly, objectivity, especially the impartiality part of the notion, seems to be not reconcilable with the watchdog function of the media elaborated in democratic theory. Jay Rosen even claims that "it's not an exaggeration to say that journalism is the last refuge of objectivity as an epistemology" (Rosen 1993:49). There are also debates about the necessity and depth of state regulations on the field of the electronic media, both the commercial and the public media, as well as about the rights of minorities to get equal access to the media for representing their positions in social issues.
From the aspect of the citizens' control over democratic processes, according to many media critics, the most dangerous phenomenon is the decline of quality journalism. In the United States the mass media are more interested in political games between Democrats and Republicans than in the deeper content of policy issues, complains James Fallows (1996). Good journalism, he argues, "would instead devote that energy toward understanding and explaining what had already occurred - and its implications for the future" (Fallows 1996:269). But in the last presidential campaign, "[t]he substance of what Gore has been saying in speeches around the country often has been wrapped in reporters' cynical language that effectively casts doubt about his motives before he even opens his mouth" (Hall 2000). The emergence of new technologies and big profit-oriented media enterprises, as well as "the sudden end of the Cold War, which left newsrooms without a central, organizing focus for the news", have come together with an ignorance of reliable sources and a rush to political and moral judgements. At the end, "the line separating commentary from news seems to have melted in the competitive heat of the 'new news'" (Kalb 1998:3 and 17).
However, as President Clinton's Monica-scandal was over, life got back to normal: the most heavily visited news-and-information sites on the Internet now belong to huge media conglomerates which have a consolidated professional vocabulary (Rich 1999). Arguing against media malaise theories in general, Pippa Norris can point out to the good side of sensationalism in journalism. This easy style could increase citizens' engagement into public life coming from lower social strata. "If the choice is between reading tabloids that contain some political fare, combined with news about pop stars, violent crime, and football results, or not reading any newspapers, then arguably the former is preferable", she says (Norris 2000:73). Nevertheless, according to Winfried Schulz, since yellow pages and dull commercial media do not take the rules of professional journalism very seriously, it still remains necessary for an open society "that the norm violations are perceived as deviant behaviour and are publicly criticised, if not even punished legally" (Schulz 2001:54).
The norm and ideology of objectivity, especially the factuality part of the notion, should not be thrown out of the window, either. As Judith Lichtenberg argues in its defence, there is a "common mistake to confuse objectivity and neutrality. The objective investigator may start out neutral (more likely, she is simply good at keeping her prior beliefs from distorting her inquiry), but she does not necessarily end up neutral" (Lichtenberg 1991:229) .
It is widely accepted that politicians and political parties have also adjusted to the needs of the modern mass media. "As a general tendency of the change in politics in a developed Western society with higher media penetration, a decrease in the importance of Realpolitik in favour of symbolic politics can be established" (Seisselberg 1996:721). Media presentation might matter, as it did according to David Sanders and Pippa Norris during the campaign of the general elections in Great Britain in 1997. "Voters' political perceptions are influenced by the content of television news and, in particular, that positive news images appear to exert more powerful effects than negative ones" (Sanders and Norris 1997). But "[n]egative or positive news is not necessarily an indicator of media bias - it may reflect an accurate view of the relative performance of each campaign". With other words: it might be an intellectual failure to confuse negative media coverage with conscious distortion in every case. This might also happen because of dissenting perspectives: the 1992 election campaign in the United States gives support to the hostile media hypothesis: "Since partisans see the generally moderate political stance of the media as leaning away from their own more partisan political views, that may explain why the media are repeatedly and simultaneously attacked by critics on the Left and Right for their political bias" (Dalton, Beck, and Huckfeldt 1998:116 and 121).
Narrow-minded media-oriented political communication also has troublesome weaknesses. Voters might quickly turn to other political 'products', as it happened to Silvio Berluscuni's Forza Italia in 1996 (Seisselberg 1996). It happened despite the tendency that "Berlusconi could also count on the support of at least one of the three public service channels; thus he was able to influence most of the television news in the country" (Giglioli 2001:172). Yet, it might be another mistake to "take it for granted that there is a relationship between 'ownership and control'" (Negrine 1994:63) everywhere: the news-making process involves many 'gate-keepers'; reporters and editors, and, in some cases, owners, who influence what will be published or aired.
The media might have special attitudes when evaluating the political process. During the election year 2000, according to a study by the Pew Research Center and the Project for Excellence in Journalism, "[t]he press has been far more likely to convey that Bush is a different kind of Republican - 'a compassionate conservative', a reformer, bipartisan - than to discuss Al Gore's themes of experience, knowledge, or readiness for the office" (quoted by Hall 2000). But long-term evaluation gives a more sophisticated picture about the role of the media in the United States. There was "virtually no continuing ideological or partisan bias on the evening television news. Instead, what was seen as ideological or partisan bias in 1980 or 1984 was actually a bias against presidential incumbents and front-runners for the presidency" (quoted by Janda, Berry, and Goldman 1992:218). This evaluation confirms Michael Schudson's statement that "[t]he press regularly takes value positions without even knowing it" (Schudson 1995:218). Still, in the case of common cultural-social assumptions, it is not evident to what extent the media follow or lead the citizens' attitudes and opinions. That is one reason why the agenda-setting role of the media and their capacity to frame public issues and events, proposed by some media analysers, are also seriously questioned in the literature - not to speak about media power theories .

Political journalism in Hungary

This chapter gives a very general picture about political journalism in Hungary. To start with, it is also true for this country that "the ideals of neutral professionalism based on anglo-American media history are widely accepted by journalists around the world" (Hallin 2000). Although, everyday practise might be very different, according to Daniel Hallin, who compared clientelism in the field of the media in some regions of the world.
Political clientelism is not characteristic for the Hungarian media. However, some right wing papers are dependent from government resources and there are rumours about Népszava, saying that behind the new firm, which rescued the daily from bankruptcy, one can find the socialist party. Yet, "[m]ore than 80 percent of print media and some 70 percent of radio and television stations are in private hands", as Freedom House pointed out in 1999 and gave a classification 'free' repeatedly to the Hungarian media (Press Freedom 1999:17). The Hungarian case supports the platform of the International Press Institute "that foreign investment, usually seen by politicians as well as some media organisations, as a negative factor, has definitely had a positive effect in Eastern Europe. There was capital investment in modern technology and equipment, and above all, a highly specialised managerial knowhow. These media practice (…) journalism according to Western standards" (Fritz 1999).
Yet, it is not hard to make a long list about the most significant weaknesses of quality journalism in Hungary.
1. Political reporting often falls into the trap of grey impartiality by focusing on simplistic power games: 'this politician said something, and the other one did not agree'. Objectivity is frequently and mechanically misinterpreted as neutrality. There are no solid intellectual framework and moral worldview in the case of many media outlets, which would help to place domestic as well as international events and issues into an explanatory context. As the journalist György Petőcz expressed his intuition: "no reading material, no vitality, no world, no spirit in our dailies" (Petőcz 2000).
2. Paradoxically, strong spins and personal-subjective comments often follow false and artificial neutral reporting. Since factual journalism is less exciting in its Hungarian version, opinion journalism, with its long domestic tradition, has become a widespread practice.
3. The content of political news in the commercial TV-s shows that the editors estimate the average intellectual level of the audience very low. International politics are hardly covered - sensationalism rules. Yet, today, the two big networks give the opportunity to the political parties in opposition to enjoy some television coverage.
4. Investigative reporting has financial difficulties and its professional standards are often not taken seriously. In most cases, there are no (political) consequences of any findings - except the attacks of leading politicians, sometimes followed by trials in the courtrooms.
5. Journalists often simply run after the political events, go to press conferences and use the press releases of the spokespersons and repeat the PR messages of politicians without even questioning them. As for the coming election campaign next year, the practice of the commercial networks will be very likely to give word to all the competing party representatives - without confronting them with each other or with their own former declarations.
6. The liberal way of thinking has a decreasing influence on the political and cultural life of the country - in connection with the decay of the free democrats in the competition of the political parties. There is little resistance among the journalists against political pressure of the government in the field of the media.
7. The conservative press still has a small circulation and it is much more pro-governmental than the left-liberal papers used to be under the former coalition.
8. Despite the close date of Hungary's accession to the European Union, provincial cultural attitudes and 'common wisdom' stereotypes dominate the coverage of international politics .
9. The biggest daily, the former central newspaper of the communist party, Népszabadság, does not have the same international reputation as Gazeta Wyborcza in Poland, which was founded by dissidents of the one-party system in 1989 (Michnik 1999).
None of these dilemmas can be compared to the most serious problem of the Hungarian media: the political, moral and financial collapse of the public television. Currently, there is little hope that the public TV will play a leading role in creating sophisticated public debates about important political issues - which public debates should give the essence of a liberal democratic society.


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