Hungary’s Jobbik builds far-right media empire

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán isn’t the only one trying to build a new media empire, after his public conflict with long-time friend, media magnate and oligarch Lajos Simicska. Jobbik leader Gábor Vona, who is a more astute politician than just about anyone else in the Hungarian opposition, is building a media empire of his own. And this media empire is looking quite different from the rabidly antisemitic and racist, and it also bears no resemblance to the tired, dry essays that appeared in previous far-right publications created by Jobbik’s predecessors, such as the Magyar Fórum weekly, once edited by the late István Csurka. Mr. Vona’s media looks, sounds and feels very much like Mr. Vona himself, following his new, “improved,” gentle and warm/fuzzy makeover. Jobbik’s media voice is geared towards young Hungarians, it has a distinctly irreverent feel to it, which is similar to liberal, youthful publications such as or Index, it tends to combine tabloid-type pieces with more serious material and is laced with more a implicit anti-Roma sentiment than before. Rather than overt racism, these publications and media organs encourage readers to draw their own racist conclusions instead.

Earlier today, Mr. Vona encouraged his 255,000 followers on Facebook to support the party’s growing media portfolio, especially as the party expects more attacks from political opponents, following efforts to turn it into a potential governing party. He noted that Jobbik-supporters and those interested in the party, should rely on three sources of news: the Alfahí online news site, Jobbik’s N1TV online television broadcast and Barikád, the party’s central organ. “I realize that in the coming months, they will shoot at us from every angle, in order to destroy what we’ve started. The lies, attacks and distortion will come from every direction, so please don’t believe everything that you hear or read about us,” wrote Mr. Vona on Facebook. The Jobbik leader is an avid Facebook user and he then posted another item earlier Sunday: the party has covered all bases and those with more academic inclinations are encouraged to read the quarterly journal, Magyar Hüperión.

So what does Jobbik’s media empire look like? Let’s start with their online television broadcast, N1TV. The broadcast includes daily, generally professionally-edited videos posted to YouTube and some regular weekly television shows. Sándor Pörzse, a former parliamentarian, now works for N1TV. Many of the videos appear to be lighter forms of entertainment, but in fact are very much politically charged. One example is a show where two men dress up as sixteenth century knights and head out to Budapest’s party district on a Saturday night. They then sit down to chat with young Hungarians who are either coming from a party, or headed to one. In the most recent episode, the “knight” asks a young female about her views on ISIS and whether she agrees with Prime Minister Orbán, who sent Hungarian troops to fight alongside coalition partners. One of the knights then entertains the young women by quoting – verbatim – passages from the Koran, after the smiling, cheerful party-goers confirm that they do not feel that ISIS poses a threat to Hungary. The other knight is fluent in English and starts chatting with visibly intoxicated tourists in Budapest’s city centre, who endorse N1TV.

This N1TV show best exemplifies Jobbik’s attempt to come across as fun-loving and dynamic; a party that is innocuous, doesn’t always take itself too seriously and is comprised of people who are just like any average twenty-something Hungarian. The programming also includes weekly interviews each Friday with Mr. Vona, who uses this medium to provide “rebuttals” to Mr. Orbán’s weekly Friday morning radio broadcasts.

Interestingly, N1TV shows are produced by a former, prominent HírTv celebrity called Szabolcs Kisberk. Mr. Kisberk appeared in HírTV’s weekly show Célpont. While most of his colleagues decided to jump ship after Mr. Simicska’s conflict with Mr. Orbán, and were sure to display their loyalty to the prime minister, Mr. Kisberk decided to hitch his wagon to Jobbik. The border between Fidesz and Jobbik has always been porous, so this need not come as a surprise. It’s worth keeping in mind that the ultra-Orbánist Echo TV, owned by oligarch Gábor Széles, is often more extremist in its right-wing programming than the “new” Jobbik.

Alfahír's reporter, Adrian Magvasi, interviews Mr. Kisberk. Photo: Alfahír.

Alfahír’s reporter, Adrián Magvasi, interviews Mr. Kisberk. Photo: Alfahír.

The online Jobbik newspaper, Alfahír, interviewed Mr. Kisberk, after he jumped ship. He told Adrián Magvasi, one of Alfahír’s young reporters, that he had several job offers after quitting HírTV, but he chose N1TV because he feels that it provides him with the greatest degree of professional freedom, and also because he has big plans to turn the still relatively small online broadcaster into Hungary’s primary internet-based television station. “Younger viewers have almost totally given up on traditional television and obtain most of their information from the internet. This is becoming more common even among the older generations,” said Mr. Kisberk.

The reporter producing the interview, Adrián Magvasi, is one of nine young contributors and editors at Alfahír. Their irreverent and informal approach is similar to that of, but–of course–we are still dealing with a far-right publication. One of the regular contributors, Dániel Kovács, recently wrote a racist piece on Roma in a small village in eastern Hungary, who were waiting in line to receive aid and livestock from pro-Fidesz sociologist and adviser Zsuzsa Hegedűs. Ms. Hegedűs runs a charity and she showed up in the village in a government-owned Audi, with associates who brought along live pigs and chickens to distribute. The article’s racism is different in tone, in that it is slightly more implicit and is generally irreverent in tone. More than 2,500 people shared the report and Mr. Kovács’s photos on Facebook.

Alfahír is closely tied to Jobbik, although they are careful not to make it seem as though it is simply a dry, party paper spewing propaganda. Yet a number of Jobbik politicians are contributors and others, like the 31 year old Tamás Nótin, are municipal city councilors and also members of Alfahír’s editorial board. Mr. Nótin’s articles seem to focus on foreign policy news and on the Roma minority in Hungary. Beyond the implicit racism directed at the Roma and a very dreary view of American foreign policy, Alfahír also seem preoccupied with the Hit Gyülekezete church, a Pentecostal mega-church in Hungary, which has traditionally developed close ties to both the liberal politicians of today’s opposition, as well as more recently to the Orbán government.

It’s worth watching and tracking how Jobbik expands its media presence, and how this media reflects the new efforts at creating a “big tent” party ahead of 2018, spearheaded by Mr. Vona.

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