No bad news about Viktor Orbán in the campaign

Ténytár is committed to drafting data-based factual analyses on the representation of politics in the media. Correspondingly, we have written a joint analysis with Mertek Media Monitor, wherein we reviewed the appearance of politicians in news shows, the ratio of public affairs news, and the structure and weight of the latter in news shows.

Our study has been surveying media outlets since the beginning of 15 February 2014, the official campaign launch date. The media outlets and shows reviewed are the evening news of M1 and RTL Klub, TV2’s Tények (Facts) and Kossuth Rádió’s Déli Krónika (Noon Chronicle). A total of 3,269 news items appeared in these shows. The study viewed segments within the news stream that were clearly distinguishable from other segments as individual news items. Each item may range from 15 seconds to several minutes in length. In certain instances an item may even comprise sub-items based on one another.

Public affairs issues made up 48% of the most watched/listened to news shows, 42% were tabloid items, and 10% were other types of news items (e.g. surreptitious advertising, propaganda, etc.) Dividing the period under investigation into three phases, we observe that the share of public affairs news was roughly identical in all three, but a closer look at individual channels reveals substantial differences.

The numbers reveal that the picture that the media conveys about politics is one that distorts reality in several aspects, especially in cases when Viktor Orbán is the protagonist of the news item in question. Specifically, there were no negative news about Viktor Orbán. This phenomenon casts a disconcerting light on the media system as a whole, but it also raises concerns about the impartiality of individual media outlets. Balanced coverage and impartiality are of fundamental importance for media consumers who use media outlets as their primary source of information during the election period.

Changes in the share of various types of news as the election date approaches

Public affairs news predominate in the public broadcasting outlets, while commercial television continues to focus on tabloid news. The latter is especially true of TV2’s evening news show Tények (Facts), which begins at 6PM. At the same time, TV2’s Tények is also considerably longer than the evenings news shows on M1 and RTL Klub, and it features more news items. Yet this surplus of airtime is completely taken up by tabloid news.

As the election date approached, we observed more discrepancies in the types of public affairs news covered. Between 1 and 14 March the ratio of public affairs items involving party politics was higher than in the periods between15-28 February or 15-26 March. In the most recent period under investigation, party political news – a decisive majority of which dealt with the collection of endorsement signatures and putting candidates on the ballot – gained ground primarily at the expense of public policy news items. We should also add that in March international news proliferated in the news stream, mainly on account of the Crimean crisis.

The weight of various types of public affairs news varies substantially between outlets. But given the stability in the preferences of individual editorial offices, we did not observe major fluctuations over the span of the three time periods covered. As far as these preferences are concerned, we observe that the editors of M1’s news show gave party political news the greatest weight, while the proportion of foreign news tends to be the highest on TV2’s Tények. Thus TV2 uses not only tabloid items but international news as well to reduce the share of domestic public affairs news, especially those involving party politics. Finally, we observed that Déli Krónika (Noon Chronicle) broadcasts more economic news items than the other three channels.

Who are the “newsmakers” in the domestic media?

In 99% of domestic news it was possible to unequivocally ascertain who the “newsmaker” of the given item was. In so doing, we were also substantially helped by the analysis of online news streams, for unlike news blocks involving several players, those reveal more clearly who the protagonist is in the given item. The political affiliations of the “newsmakers” often differ from the political affiliations of the other persons who appear in the item. It is obvious, for example, that items involving the two former socialist politicians who are mired up in allegations of corruption or were actually convicted of corruption, namely Gábor Simon and János Zuschlag, respectively, were not generated by the alliance of left-wing parties called “Change of Government”, even though both these former politicians are to some extent affiliated with MSZP. The newsmaker in items dealing with these politicians  was obviously the party that held a press conference on the issue, that is Fidesz, which generated the given news item.

Analysing the items over time, we found that in terms of acting as “newsmakers”, the smaller left-wing parties DK and Együtt-PM were increasingly less able to create news of their own, even as the left-wing alliance on the whole and MSZP came to generate news more frequently. Overall, this had no impact on the government/anti-government balance. The latter – or the share of other newsmakers – did not change appreciably over the three periods under investigation.

There are immense differences between individual channels, however. The government side’s (government, governing parties and government organisations) presence is highest in Déli Krónika, but it is also higher on M1’s news than on the commercial channels. The commercial channels also gave some space to news items generated by the civil sphere (NGOs, professional organisations, trade unions, etc.).

It is also remarkable that LMP is the “newsmaker” in under one percent of items broadcast on Déli Krónika and at a level of just one percent in TV2’s Tények. In the news shows on M1 and RTL Klub, however, Green party politicians figure prominently as newsmakers. Finally, Jobbik was most successful at penetrating the news with items it has itself generated in the case of M1’s new shows (for example with press conferences).

How often do politicians appear in the news?

Looking at all the news in the news stream, 29% of items involve domestic political players. In the case of public affairs news concerning Hungary itself, for obvious reasons this share is over 90%. In terms of the party affiliation of politicians who appear on the news, we have found that the proportion of government members and governing party players is relatively stable over time. Representatives of DK and Együtt-PM appear less frequently in the news than in the early stages of the campaign; in terms of the government/opposition balance, the absence of the latter has not been fully compensated by the more frequent appearances of MSZP politicians either. Still, the third period in the timeframe under investigation saw a greater share of appearances by small extra-parliamentary parties and the smaller governing party KDNP.

Déli Krónika‘s news show boasts the highest share of governing party politicians. MSZP politicians appeared most often in the domestic public affairs news of TV2, though such type of news are rather few on that particular news show. Együtt-PM politicians appear relatively often on RTL Klub’s news show, and Jobbik politicians make it most often into M1’s news.

Over 600 persons have appeared with their names and faces/voices featured in domestic politics-related public affairs news, but only 11 persons appeared in at least 25 items. The two most important players were unequivocally Viktor Orbán and Attila Mesterházy.

There are no dramatic differences in the respective shares of appearances of the most important players. Viktor Orbán, however, has only appeared in news items with positive connotations: he led opening ceremonies, gave speeches, etc. Stories involving Attila Mesterházy, in contrast, often featured him as a supporting character in items on former MSZP vice chair Gábor Simon, who is under investigation for corruption. Attila Mesterházy appears in 41% of news items on Gábor Simon, and Gábor Simon stars in 17% of news on Attila Mesterházy.

This phenomenon raises red flags concerning the entire media system, and it also evokes suspicions concerning the impartiality of certain media outlets. Balanced coverage and impartiality are in the fundamental interest of those media consumers who also use the media for finding information on parties during the campaign period. The numbers show that the picture of politics that emerges from the news shows is distorted, especially in cases when Viktor Orbán was the protagonist in given news items: There were no negative items involving the prime minister.