World Press Freedom Day 2023: András Bíro reflects on the current state of press freedom in Hungary
For the 30-year anniversary of World Press Freedom Day, Right Livelihood caught up with 1991 Laureate András Bíró. A renowned Hungarian journalist and activist, Bíró played an important role in the re-emergence of Hungarian civil society in the 1990s. Nearly 30 years later, he reflects on the current situation for the media and journalists in Hungary, and how Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s regime has effectively monopolised the media landscape with state-controlled news outlets.
Right Livelihood: As a Hungarian journalist and activist, how do you assess the press freedom situation in Hungary?
András Bíró: Mr. Orbán’s illiberal regime has systematically restricted free speech in Hungary. With the exception of a few weekly magazines, there is only one daily paper, one radio station and one tv station in the capital where professional journalism prevails, and oppositional views can be aired.
RL: What are some examples of how the government controls the press in Hungary?
AB: The government has created and financed foundations to ensure total power over given social spaces. To control the media, the government created the Central European Press and Media Foundation, which owns more than 500 newspapers and magazines all over the country. It uses its editorial staff to copy-paste centrally produced news stories.
RL: How is the free press financed in Hungary?
AB: Government advertisements, a way to finance the subservient media, are not to be seen in the free press or tv, which remain dependent on citizen support. Unfortunately, this is shrinking due to an inflation rate of 28%, the highest in the European Union.
RL: What is the impact of the state-controlled media on Hungarian society?
AB: The impact of this streamlined information can be measured by the steady electoral success of FIDESZ (Orbán’s state party), insuring a two-third majority in the parliament for the last 13 years.
Thankfully, in contrast to Putin’s and Erdogn’s regimes, no journalists are killed or imprisoned, as Hungary’s EU membership makes it difficult to employ these brutal tactics.