A series of surveys by Mertek Media Monitor analyzing the state of the freedom of the press in Hungary.
We performed surveys in several fields within the complex topic of the freedom of the press, including the impact of the recent media regulation, political and economic pressure on the media, and self-censorship. Due to the diversity of these themes, we posed our questions to a variety of target groups including journalists, media managers, and the general public. In addition to questionnaires, we conducted a series of deep interviews as well.
On a scale of one to ten, the state of freedom of the press was assessed as being slightly better than average by media managers (5.4) and as slightly worse than average by journalists (4.8), with the general public giving the lowest grade, at 4.6. Based on the results of the public survey, it seem that the perception of the degree of media freedom is influenced by the respondent’s party preferences, with a significant gap apparent between the respective opinions of ruling party supporters and the voter camp of the largest opposition party. Only 20% of Fidesz supporters rated the current degree of freedom of the press somewhere between one and four while 59% gave a rating between six and ten. By contrast, 47% of MSZP voters rated the degree of media freedom between one and four, compared to only 25% with an assessment between six to ten. The convergence of index values toward the midpoint suggests that none of the target groups finds the state of freedom of the press to be satisfactory.
The freedom of the press is essentially interpreted as a set of relationships between politics and media by journalists and media managers, who consider the absence of any form of influence on the media by political parties as a precondition for the proper operation of the freedom of the press. The degree of political influence on the press is indicated by the fact that 55% of the journalists asked believe that the finances of their employer depend to some extent on the political powers that be. A nearly identical portion of journalists and media managers (36% and 34%, respectively) are of the opinion that the political pressure on media is intense enough to rein in the freedom of the press in Hungary. This degree of political influence may clearly have an impact on the behavior of journalists. To the extent that the financial health or feasibility of a media enterprise depends on prevailing political power, threats will inevitably arise to the independence of journalists, the diversity of themes presented in the media, and even to objective, unbiased reporting.
In the opinion of respondents, political pressure is exerted in indirect ways, most notably through the award or withholding of government-sponsored advertising. Journalists tend to see their own existential fears as the main reason behind the success of political pressure.
The overwhelming majority of the general public, journalists, and media owners or managers (80%, 77%, and 96%, respectively) believe that some topics are hushed up and treated as taboo in Hungarian publicity. Self-censorship seems to be working as a kind of cultural pattern in Hungarian journalism. Journalists today have no difficulty relating to the types of self-censorship routinely practiced in the profession during the 1980’s. In fact, 16-17% of the journalists we asked admit to resorting in their daily work to the forms of self-censorship that evolved under the dictatorship in Hungary.
The new media regulation has failed to meet professional expectations is evident in the low number (6%) of journalists who claim to have taken a positive view of the new media laws before they entered into force. The majority of journalists say that the area most adversely affected by the new regulations is the quality of public service media. The majority of both journalists and media owners/executives note mounting difficulties in the conditions of operation as well as a decline in the esteem and recognition of journalism as a profession in general. Most of the journalists asked feel that their situation has worsened since the introduction of the new media regulation. Indeed, some admit to “censoring myself more heavily because I am more apprehensive of the potential consequences.”