Numerous articles by journalists have looked at the Hungarian Television’s (that is the public service television channels) reports on the war and its take on the news as it emerges from this coverage. Let us take a look at what a statistical analysis reveals about the six hours of news footage from the news shows on the three major television channels that we reviewed as part of our news monitoring. (12 February 2022 – 4 March 2022)
The war, news about the war and domestic developments in Hungary affected by the war make up a vast proportion of the entire news shows. As we pointed out in the analysis published after the first days of the war, domestic policy news and tabloid items have been relegated to the background, although the fact that we are in a campaign period is still palpable. By now, it is unequivocally clear that the share of news that directly focus on the campaign has declined even in those news items that feature Hungarian politicians.
Figure 1: The share of news items that touch on the elections directly or indirectly (%)
Although the government side has repeatedly stressed that it would be unfortunate if the war situation would be subject to political debates, neither the governing side nor the opposition have forgotten that there is a campaign going on. The competing parties are heavily engaged in trying to construe the situation caused by the war in line with their own views and preferences, to turn it into an advantage.
Changes in the number of various news items which (also) featured Hungarian politicians in the days preceding the war and in the days following the start of the invasion (%).
While during the first period the topics addressed in the public service television channel news show and in the TV2 news show were dominated by reports about economic successes (on RTL’s news show, the election was the most prominent topic during that time, which the channel covered with objective accounts of the ongoing developments), subsequently the war and its ramifications emerged as the central elements in all of the news shows we tracked. Even as reports about economic successes declined in number, the proportion of news designed to stigmatise or criticise the opposition barely budged – we also included news items in this category that were aimed at discrediting opposition politicians, as well as those which reported about the opposition’s operations in a way that was critical of key opposition figures or parties.
“Of politicians, nothing but good” – this slightly amended version of the old proverb comes to mind when analysing the context in which government party politicians tended to be featured in the news. When the coverage did take a side, the assessment of government party politicians in the news was mostly positive, but on the whole their presentation tended to be neither positive nor negative. The picture was entirely different, however, when it came to the presentation of opposition politicians. All the news items on TV2 that featured opposition politicians presented them in a negative light, and the public service television channel, too, mostly presented them in an unfavourable context.
Figure 2: How governing party politicians were presented in the news since the launch of the campaign, based on a negative/positive axis (%)
Figure 3: How opposition politicians were presented in the news since the launch of the campaign, based on a negative/positive axis (%)
The public service media’s coverage of the war has been the subject of intense public controversy. At the same time, in addition to the assessment of its direct communication, it is also important to highlight how the propaganda uses indirect means of influencing the viewers.
A two-minute item in the Duna TV news show as meant to depict the situation of the “declining West,” and the report was seemingly “empathetic” of the plight of westerners (The Brits are heating less – Duna News Show, 22 February 2022, at 14:32):
“The situation in Great Britain is reminiscent of a war-time scenario. Utility prices are rising continuously. A growing number of people are forced to heat less. Many wash their clothes at cold temperatures because they can’t pay their bills” (the anchor).
This is followed by a video report of a mother in south England who turns the heating down at night because she can no longer pay the bills for keeping it running all day. As the report points out, she has had to forgo all of her access to entertainment, too, she cannot afford to go to the movies or to restaurants. According to an NGO, millions of Britons who were previously all right financially are now in need. The situation will deteriorate further in April as energy prices will surge by 50%. A growing number of people need aid packages.
If a regular follower of the news wants to understand why the editor of the public television news show chose 22 February of all days to devote a two-minute segment to this terrible situation, the “almost war-like state” – the awfulness of which brings to mind the early period of industrialisation in the UK – they won’t have to dig deep for an explanation: a day earlier the same news show had quoted Viktor Orbán, who said the following at his joint press conference with the Slovenian prime minister: “Hungarian families are not aware that there is an energy crisis in western Europe since their utility bills are the same as half a year or a year ago.”
Finally, here is the account of another case of “balanced” coverage, that is how opposition politicians are presented (Márki-Zay attacks the minimum wage – Duna Híradó, 21 February 2022, 15:24).
On this day, the news show devoted two items to the issue of the minimum wage. On the surface, this involved reports that were compiled in a nuanced and balanced manner, since the first item entitled Márki-Zay attacks the minimum wage quotes passages from the opposition prime ministerial candidate’s own comments, while the title of the second item, Fidesz on the minimum wage, suggests that the report is meant to capture the governing party’s position. The report on the opposition candidate is 184 seconds long, and Péter Márki-Zay is shown commenting five times, in 10-15 second footages presented without a context.His comments reiterate the same few phrases, which essentially argue that a significant hike in the minimum wage would not be a wise economic policy decision. In those segments of the report that do not rely on direct quotes – a little over two minutes – the anchor is shown discussing how the news site Origo – a staunchly pro-Fidesz outlet – has proffered a negative assessment of the candidate’s comments. The following item, on Fidesz’s position, is unusually short, barely 30 seconds long and, despite its title, it does not actually present Fidesz’s position on the minimum wage but instead uses comments by government spokesman István Hollik to report that the coming election will be an opportunity for citizens to decide whether they want to preserve the new successful economic policies or whether they prefer a return to the economic failures of the Gyurcsány and Bajnai eras.
 The research is supported by the German Marshall Fund.