Reading news in Hungary is an arduous task. If you speak the language and open your browser to learn about current affairs, you’d be hit by a dystopian reality. Only a handful of independent online outlets exist, and the situation is worse in the print media or in places outside of the capital, Budapest.
In Hungary, most media outlets are funded by the government, which as such requires them to be very much biased. The tax-funded public television, which normally would have to inform rather than indoctrinate people, is dismissed by the Hungarian youth as a fake-news channel. Trust in the public media is lowest only in Poland. And not without reason.
As general elections are drawing near in Hungary, there is change in the air. Opposition parties put away their differences and are getting united in order to beat the current governing party, Fidesz, at the forthcoming election.
The current government in Hungary has been accused of eroding the rule of law and media plurality over its twelve years in power. Now, with a united opposition, the chances of defeating the governing party are higher than ever.
But while change is in the air, what is happening on air and in print is completely different. The government is amping up its propaganda campaign against anyone who is critical of the situation.
Propaganda pieces label critics as anti-vaccers (whereas even the court ruled it is untrue), people even marginally involved with the opposition campaign are branded as communists, foreign agents are accused of tax fraud, corruption, and all the things that the governing politicians themselves are usually guilty of.
Despite the usual illiberal diatribe that the media is ruled by liberals, the truth is that the Central European Press and Media Foundation, set up by the Hungarian government, controls over 500 media outlets. In the countryside, for example, many local media outlets will feature the same propaganda article with the same pictures on the same page as in the centrally written copy.
It is difficult, therefore, for an average reader to get the facts straight. They will see that the economy is booming despite record high inflation and deficit. They would think the Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is defending the country from the communist opposition, when, in fact, the government is cozying up to the Chinese communists and the Kremlin.
The opposition will have to go against a very ferocious and omnipresent disinformation and propaganda campaign. If they still manage to win, they will have plenty to do to free the media in Hungary.