The present Soft Censorship report differs somewhat from the customary format of previous reports.
For one, we do not provide you with a comprehensive cross-sectional overview of the state of the Hungarian media. Instead, this study mostly focuses on market processes. We did not devote a separate chapter to the analysis of the state of public media since there were no substantial changes, neither on public media offerings nor their organisational structure. Nor did we focus on how journalists perform their work. Our express goal this year was to shine a light on the expansion of pro-government media, that is the process whereby the governing parties are giving themselves an edge in Hungarian public discourse that no alternative views can hope to match.
Another difference compared to prior years is that our report is published later in the year than usual. At the same time, this has enabled us to take a look at the 2017 financial results of media companies. This paints a much clearer picture of the distortions in the market structure; the advantage enjoyed by government-friendly media companies is readily apparent.
The report reflects on the situation as it was in 2017, but of course we know that since then Fidesz has won another supermajority in the Hungarian parliament, and it is also widely known that substantial transformations have occurred in the media ownership structures. The daily Magyar Nemzet and the Lánchíd radio station were shut down after the elections, and the print weekly Heti Válasz is only published online now. Their owner, Lajos Simicska, the prime minister’s former confidante who became his opponent in 2015, has divested himself of all his business interests, including his remaining media portfolio. The Hungarian public sphere has undeniably become even more constricted as a result of these developments. Still, these changes are anything but unexpected.
The main goal of the 2017 Soft Censorship report is to show how massively uneven the playing field has become for the various players. What remains at this point is only seemingly a market, in reality the enterprises with ties to the government operate in a whole different framework and logic than the independent media companies. Certain aspects of the report might sound familiar based on our previous reports: Every year since we started this report we have reviewed the Media Authority’s frequency tender practices, the trends in state advertising spending and the ownership structures in the media. A whole new aspect of our report is the look at the revenue side of the Hungarian media ecosystem, which serves to analyse the behaviour of commercial advertisers and advertising agencies. We used anonymous in-depth interviews to find out what considera tions play a role in advertisers’ or agencies’ decisions on where to buy advertising space or airtime, and how political pressure comes into play in this realm, too. Our hope is that this makes it possible to more comprehensively understand the state of the Hungarian media market and thus our public discourse in general.
Mertek Booklets 12: An Illiberal Model of Media Markets