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The ads tax war

June 23rd, 2014

Népszabadság calls the news-retaliation tactics employed by RTL “inelegant”; Élet és Irodalom condemns those colleagues who would like to take their own share of the ads tax spoils, while Magyar Nemzet thinks complaints about those matters disprove earlier allegations that the press is not free in Hungary.

In Népszabadság, Imre Bednárik condemns the ads tax voted on by parliament last week as “unjust, unfair, discriminative and politically motivated”, but calls the response by the main future ads tax payer “inelegant”.

The day after the law was passed, RTL Klub, the number one commercial TV channel shifted the focus of its evening news programme from “tabloid” topics to more sensitive issues. “It is not elegant to realise on the day of the vote that one can broadcast news programmes highly critical of the government,” he remarks. The stories RTL has covered since, day after day, included the private wealth of the mayor of the Prime Minister’s native village, the dividends his father’s mining company is paying and an unusually diligent police hunt for two mobile phones which disappeared during his daughter’s wedding. The main problem Bednárik finds with these stories is that they “are only new for RTL Klub news.” Other media outlets carried them months or years ago, when RTL Klub did not deem them newsworthy. Népszabadság’s commentator wonders if RTL Klub would immediately stop producing government-critical news programmes if the ads tax was suddenly withdrawn. “I am afraid, it would”, he concludes.

In his front page Élet és Irodalom editorial, Zoltán Kovács defines the ads tax act a makeshift piece of legislation improvised  under the guidance “of a few party idiots”, and deduces that since those tax receipts are illegal “under EU rules and defy common sense”, no one has the right to claim a share from them. The issue was raised by Gergely Huth, the publisher of Pesti Srácok, (Budapest Lads – the epitaph of the young fighters of the 1956 revolution) a right-wing website. Huth welcomed the tax amid a storm of general protest across political lines (see BudaPost, June 4 ), suggesting that the amount collected from the advertisements should be distributed among quality news outlets. What’ more, a liberal colleague of his, Balázs Weyer claimed public money would sooner or later be indispensable for the survival of the quality media. He argued that present trends are making the role the media plays in democracy and thereby democracy itself, unsustainable”. What a nice thought!, Kovács exclaims, but advises his colleagues to take off their hands from other people’s money. Only a few days ago, a large part of the Hungarian press demonstrated against the law, enforced in violation of the freedom of the press, and now colleagues already ponder how they could take their own share of the spoils, Kovács exclaims. He calls on them to produce good newspapers and assures them that the public will pay for them. “It is absurd to claim that newspapers should be produced even if people don’t want to buy them,” Kovács warns.

In Magyar Nemzet (print version), István Lovas  says the western press “has fallen in its own trap” when it condemned the ads tax as an attack on the free press. He accuses “the western press” of “hatred of Hungary” and proves his thesis asking if western journalists have ever produced one single statement over the past four years that would contradict Hungarian left-liberal opinion leaders and whether the latter have ever found that Hungary fared better in anything than any other country. Thus, he concludes, the western media spread an image of Hungary that is dictated to them by those very Hungarian liberals whose party was sent by voters in 2010 down to the rabbit hole of history. Part of that image was the alleged suppression of press freedom by the authorities. Suddenly, when the ads tax was introduced and when the editor of Origo was dismissed (See BudaPost, June 5), these same media outlets have discovered that the government intended to rein in the free media, including “the most popular and independent Hungarian TV station”. So far, Lovas remarks, “we have believed, reading the same newspapers that those Hungarian outlets had long ceased to be independent”.

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