An Infected Media System

The Sources of Political Information in Hungary

Ever since 2013, Mérték Media Monitor has been performing
recurring surveys to learn about the media consumption
and information patterns of the Hungarian public (the
results of the previous surveys are available on our website
at mertek.eu, under the heading Media Freedom). All our
surveys were conducted in collaboration with the Medián
Public Opinion and Market Research Institute. Among the
distinctive features of the current Hungarian media situation
is that the most widely read daily newspapers have
disappeared from the market in recent years; the most
prominent players in the radio market have been replaced
by other stations; and a variety of other media outlets
with a major audience reach have experienced changes in
ownership as a result of which the editorial guidelines that
govern their work have been fundamentally and comprehensively
rewritten. Our recurring surveys also provide us
with a picture of how sensitively and quickly the audiences
react when the media sources they rely on begin to cover
the daily events in a tone and/or manner that is markedly
different from their previously established approach.
Based on our review, we found that markets change far
more swiftly than consumption patterns.
Despite the constantly changing – and in fact volatile and
unstable – media environment, our survey provides a vital
glimpse of the prevailing situation in the media today. It captures
what type of media the various segments of the audience
tend to consume; how they view the political orientation
of the various media outlets and their credibility; and
whether they actively strive to consult news sources which
espouse political views that differ from their own. In recent
years, we have also focused more intensely on examining
the use of social media (Facebook), and over time we have
found unequivocally that for many users social media have
emerged as a new arena for the public discussion of politics.
The data in our research provide clear evidence that the
respondents’ party preferences not only inform their
choice of news sources but also have a substantial impact
on their overall assessment of media outlets. The supporters
of the governing party obviously prefer pro-government
media and consider these more credible. At the
same time, these respondents also interpret daily events
in line with the government’s narrative. This attitude also
prevails when they encounter news sources that present
news with a narrative that is antithetical to the government’s
viewpoint. The polarisation of Hungarian society is
also distinctively reflected in the public’s news consumption
and news interpretation patterns.
The year 2020 has been out of the ordinary in many respects,
including news consumption patterns. As a result of the
Covid-19 pandemic, there has been a substantial increase in
the demand for news, and the measures taken in response
to the pandemic have moved into the centre of political
and public discourse. On the one hand, our most recent
data reflect a surge in the interest in public affairs, which
was accompanied at the same time by a rise in the role of
online and social media news sources, which are more adept
at satisfying the public’s growing appetite for rapid news.
The fundamental question of the coming period is whether
these patterns will become fixed and established as the dominant
paradigm, or whether once the pandemic subsides, the
television-centred news consumption and the concomitant
moderate level of interest in public affairs will prevail again.
The transformation of Hungary’s leading news site, Index,
and the launch of a new news site, Telex, by the former
staff of Index who quit in protest of meddling by the management,
appears to indicate a breakthrough in terms of
the public’s willingness to pay for news. One of the most
dramatic events of 2020 was the joint and simultaneous
resignation of the entire Index team, and it appears that
the import of this development is being appreciated even
by some segments of the general audience who generally
tend to pay less attention to media market developments.
Large segments of the public have also taken notice of the
Media Council’s decision threatening the future of Hungary’s
only major critical radio station, Klubrádió. Telex –
which is seeking to replace Index – and Klubrádió were the
most successful fundraisers in the period examined.
The continuous changes in the Hungarian media system
pose a challenge even to those news consumers with the
highest level of awareness. It is our hope that the joint
research by Mérték and Medián, carried out in collaboration
with the Budapest office of the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung,
can provide some measure of clarity amidst the confusion.

The project was supported by Friedrich Ebert Stiftung.

An Infected Media System