In an ominous statement by the leader of the far-left Hungarian political party Momentum, András Fekete-Győr, said that in case his bid to become prime minister were successful, he would effectively ban journalists whom he deems to be “propagandists”.
Although in his video message he did not single out the Hungarian conservative media as such, both media outlets he mentions by name are center-right conservative news agencies.
In a video message to his followers, Fekete-Győr states that “… in this opinion I am more radical than the majority, and those propagandists, and I speak of propagandists, such as those in TV2 or those in Origo, who deliberately defame others, are deliberately stating falsehoods, then I would ban them for some time from their occupation.”
The politician, who is leading the far-left liberal Momentum party that is popular mostly with young voters, is one of the prime ministerial candidates from the joint opposition list that is to stand against the ruling government in the 2022 elections. The party currently polls only at 7 percent, and it has two MEPs in the European Parliament who are regularly voting for punitive measures against the Hungary. They have also been found to have ready access to the leaders of key European institutions, such as to Vera Jourová, vice-president of the European Commission.
The statement from Fekete-Győr is undoubtedly an attack on a free press and freedom of speech, but also speaks volumes regarding the democratic deficit that the Hungarian left-wing opposition tolerates. There have been no negative comments coming from the rest of the Hungarian left, but most notably no criticism has been voiced from the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) in the Euroepan Parliament, which Momentum is a member of. This is notable considering the ALDE group has been at the forefront of criticism against the Hungarian government for its alleged repression of opposition media in the country.
Currently, there are no laws in Hungary that would allow a politician to legally ban a journalist from his profession, either for being identified as what Fekete-Győr calls, a “propagandist”, nor are any politicians allowed to be the legal arbiters of what constitutes “deliberate defamation” or what is a “falsehood”. Current Hungarian legislation, on the contrary, does allow for published opinions or statements to be tested in court, and those affected can seek legal remedy for the damage to their reputation.
In a reaction to the Momentum leader’s statement, the Hungarian National Media Association have published a protest against the Momentum president’s statements, writing on their website that “reacting to these threats we are resolutely rejecting the word propagandist used against our colleagues. In our view, there will not be peace among journalists until we allow the representation of sovereign opinions to be labeled as propaganda-work, and until our colleagues who have strong opinions can be harassed by politicians, and threatened existentially. The threats can set a dangerous precedent for the entire profession, when the opposition’s candidate for prime minister expresses his desire to hinder anyone in exercising their journalistic work.”
The Media Association’s statement also recalls the fact that this was not the first time that the Momentum leader and his colleagues have threatened journalists. In 2017, they have burst into the offices of the largest Hungarian media outlet Origo, and started filming and obstructing its editorial staff with provocative questions. This is a known tactics employed by opposition politicians trying to reinforce the impression that there is no media freedom in Hungary.
In 2018, for instance, a group of left-wing opposition MPs have burst into the building of the Hungarian public television filming themselves in the process and clashing with security guards. During the livestreaming of their actions, they have alleged that they are being assaulted by the guards, while later footage had shown that they were in fact throwing themselves on the floor and running into doors without any outside assistance.
Threats of retaliation from activists and politicians of Hungary’s liberal-left parties should they manage to gain power are not a new phenomenon. During an interview for Radio Free Europe, Fekete-Győr had warned that the left-wing coalition possesses the means to rid the state of Fidesz, probably referring to voters of the current government.
He has also stated that they would remove the country’s president from office, and would also prosecute the general attorney. The Hungarian Justice Secretary Judit Varga had reacted to the threats from the left, saying that “if their [Momentum] interest would dictate so, they would remove legally elected leaders of the state from their position by entirely getting rid of the rule of law. I am eagerly awaiting the reaction of Momentum’s allies in Brussels to the words of András Fekete-Győr,… in which he threatens to entirely dismantle the rule of law.”