Decisions on ‘balanced’ reporting: the Media Council upholds a majority of far-right Jobbik party’s complaints

According to information posted on its website, the Media Council has considered 27 complaints of unbalanced reporting to date, more than half of which were brought by Hungary’s far-right Jobbik party. The Media Council has upheld 13 of Jobbik’s 16 complaints against broadcasters for not including the party’s perspectives or comments in their coverage of certain events. The Media Council has dismissed all complaints of unbalanced coverage brought by other groups or individuals, including all four complaints brought against broadcasters for alleged anti-Roma coverage, and complaints brought against Hungary’s public broadcaster for airbrushing out the face of a Constitutional Court judge in a newscast.

The “balanced” reporting provision is one of the most controversial features of Hungary’s 2010 media laws. The obligation, which was originally required for all media—including print and online press—was narrowed to broadcasters (both public and private) following negotiations with the European Commission in March 2011. Hungarian lawmakers will revise this provision again in accordance with the most recent round of negotiations with the Council of Europe. However, media expert Gábor Polyák says that the amended version will likely have little impact on its implementation.

In its current form, the article(s) on balanced reporting (see Article 13 of Act CIV of 2010) requires broadcasters to provide:

diversecomprehensivefactualup-to-dateobjective and balanced coverage on local, national and European issues that may be of interest for the general public and on any events and debated issues bearing relevance to the citizens of Hungary and the members of the Hungarian nation, in the general news and information programmes broadcasted  by them.” 

According to the Council of Europe’s assessment, this article’s wide range of criteria creates a situation of “intolerable uncertainty,” which grants the Media Council “excessive discretion…to punish information providers who give particular relevance or coverage to issues that are not in line with the majority political mainstream, or media outlets that legitimately construct and conduct their informative agenda according to their own editorial perspective.” While balanced reporting requirements are not an uncommon feature of European media legislation, the Council of Europe found that this requirement as specified in the Hungarian media law exceeds the standard for balanced reporting as shaped by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and could allow for arbitrary intervention by Hungary’s media regulator. The Council of Europe’s evaluation states that balanced reporting requirements should be clearly and narrowly defined so as to not interfere with a media outlet’s ability to establish its own editorial policies and orientation. Balanced reporting obligations should also be more strictly applied to public broadcasters than to commercial media, according to the Council of Europe.

As specified in the Hungarian legislation, violations to balanced reporting requirements can only be considered by the Media Council on the basis of outside complaints. If found in breach of this provision, broadcasters can be required to air the announcement of the infringement. Fines or heavier sanctions cannot be levied against broadcasters for breaches to the balanced reporting requirement, however failure to implement a Media Council decision could trigger more serious sanctions.

The amended article removes the requirement for “diverse, comprehensive, factual, up-to-date, objective” coverage from this provision. According to Polyák, this modification will not effect the application of the balanced reporting provision, as the regulator in practice did not utilize those elements of the law in its balanced reporting decisions.

The chart below lists the Media Council’s decisions regarding complaints about unbalanced reporting, as provided on the Media Council’s website. As noted, a majority of these complaints have been brought by Hungary’s far-right Jobbik party against broadcasters for not interviewing or quoting party officials.

An analysis of the Media Council’s decisions shows:

-          The Media Council has upheld 13 of Jobbik’s 16 complaints.

-          The Media Council has dismissed all four complaints of unbalanced coverage of Roma.

-          The Media Council has dismissed all complaints brought by other groups or individuals.

-          Most complaints (12) have been brought against private broadcaster TV2; the Media Council has upheld nine of these complaints, all of which were brought by Jobbik.

-          The Media Council has dismissed all six complaints of unbalanced coverage that were brought against public media.

Complaint of unbalanced coverage of:

Broadcaster

Media Council Decision

Decision Date

Jobbik

TV2

Upheld

2/6/2013

Jobbik

TV2

Upheld

1/30/2013

Jobbik

TV2

Upheld

1/30/2013

Jobbik

RTK Klub

Upheld

1/23/2013

Jobbik

HirTV

Upheld

12/12/2013

Jobbik

TV2

Upheld

10/10/2012

Jobbik

TV2

Upheld

9/12/2012

Jobbik

MR1 (Public radio)

Dismissed

8/29/2012

Jobbik

HirTV

Upheld

8/29/2012

Jobbik

RTL Klub

Upheld

7/5/2012

Jobbik

TV2

Upheld

7/5/2012

Jobbik

RTL Klub

Dismissed

6/13/2012

TASZ (NGO)

Hír Televízió

Dismissed

6/13/2012

Roma citizens

MTV (public media)

Dismissed

4/4/2012

Roma citizens MTV (public medka)

Dismissed

4/18/2012

Jobbik

TV2

Dismissed

4/18/2012

Jobbik

TV2

Upheld

3/14/2012

Government official

RTL Klub

Dismissed

3/7/2012

Roma

TV2

Dismissed

2/7/2012

Roma

TV2

Dismissed

2/7/2012

Jobbik

TV2

Upheld

1/11/2012

Constitutional Court President Zoltán Lomnici

MTV (public media)

Dismissed

1/18/2012

Constitutional Court President Zoltán Lomnici

MTV (public media)

Dismissed

1/18/2012

Constitutional Court President Zoltán Lomnici

MTV (public media)

Dismissed

1/18/2012

Daniel Cohn-Bendit, Green Party

MTV (public media)

Dismissed

12/14/2012

Pázmány Péter Catholic University

RTL Klub

Dismissed

12/23/2012

Jobbik

TV2

Upheld

10/11/2011

Source: Media Council

DECISIONS ON BALANCED REPORTING

When the Media Council upholds a complaint of unbalanced reporting against a media outlet, that outlet receives an initial sanction requiring it to announce the decision of its infringement. The following is a list of the Media Council’s decisions on balanced reporting complaints to date.

TV2 sanctioned for omitting Jobbik’s critique of the left

FEBRUARY 6, 2013: The Media Council upheld a complaint of unbalanced reporting brought by Jobbik against TV2 (owned by MTM-SBS Televízió Zrt.) for a news spot entitled “The opposition starts to negotiate” in program Tények reggel (Facts in the morning) aired January 3, 2013.The sanction was made on the grounds that the news items did not present the Jobbik party’s viewpoint on the topic. Jobbik had sent a press release to MTI saying that “MSZP and SZDSZ now return after a lost 2010 election, partly behind the back of fake civil movements. The common trait of the leftist groups is that they admittedly campaign with American money. LMP is supported by Richard Field and Gordon Bajnai’s political activity is supported by the Center for American Progress.” The Media Council ruled that TV2 violated the obligation of balanced reporting by omitting Jobbik’s statement, because it differed significantly from other viewpoints presented in the news item, and because the opinion qualifies as being highly relevant to the topic.– Decision 207/2013. (II. 6)


TV2 sanctioned for omitting Jobbik message of solidarity with students

JANUARY 30, 2013: The Media Council has upheld a complaint brought by Jobbik against  TV2 for unbalanced reporting for its December 12, 2012 news program containing a report about the Government’s plans for transforming higher education. The sanction charged that TV2 (owned by MTM-SBS Televízió Zrt.) did not present the Jobbik party’s relevant viewpoint on the topic, even though a Socialist party representative was interviewed.The main focus of the news report was students demonstrating in Budapest and the countryside. But because the coverage included comments from a government spokesperson and the president of the MSZP, it was also report about higher education reform and should therefore include Jobbik’s viewpoint, the Media Council ruled. According to the ruling, TV2’s program qualified as unbalanced reporting on the grounds that it only presented the opinion of one opposition party (MSZP), even though Jobbik also had an independent, relevant viewpoint: In its press release, Jobbik said that it stands in solidarity with the students and supports them. Jobbik also said that the planned measure shows the arrogance of the government and not only does harm to students but to the whole country, adding that Fidesz actively urges the young to leave the country. According to Jobbik, the Minister for Education should resign.– Decision 168/2013. (I. 30.)

TV2 sanctioned for omitting Jobbik’s ‘different view’ on racism

JANUARY 30, 2013: The Media Council has upheld a complaint of unbalanced reporting brought by Jobbik against  TV2’s news show Tények for its coverage of the December 2, 2012 Demonstration Against Racism, which was held in reaction to Jobbik MP Marton Gyöngyösi’s call to create a list all the Jews in the Hungary.The Media Council decided that the show violated the principle of balanced reporting by not presenting Jobbik’s opinion, which was expressed in a press release from Gabor Vona, Jobbik’s president. The Media Council ruled that Vona’s opinion was relative to the content of the report and contained a point of view that should have been presented in order to provide balance. According to the Media Council: “All the opinions cited in the news synopsis condemned racism, or expressed a strong critique against the statements of the deputy (Gyöngyösi). There was no oppositional or different view in the program. It is not the obligation of the media operator to present each and every viewpoint made public and provided by press releases from their representatives, but for the sake of balanced reporting they must present the relevant opposing views or at least refer to the fact that such views exist. The views and not their representatives must be presented: in the given situation the editor can choose between many representatives of one point of view.”– Decision 160/2013. (I. 30.)

RTL Klub sanctioned for omitting Jobbik’s stand on students

JANUARY 23, 2013: The Media Council has upheld a complaint of unbalanced reporting brought  by Jobbik against RTL Klub on the grounds that the channel did not present Jobbik’s relevant standpoint in its December 13, 2012 Hiradó news segment about the government’s steps to address higher education reform. (See January 30, above.)– Decision 128/2013. (I. 23.) 

Hír TV sanctioned for omitting Jobbik’s stand on the IMF

DECEMBER 12, 2012: The Media Council has upheld a complaint of unbalanced reporting brought  by Jobbik against Hir Televizio Zrt charging that its Hír TV channel did not present Jobbik’s point of view regarding IMF loan negotiations in the September 7, 2012 editions of its news shows Híradó and Híradó 21.–Decision 2209/2012 (XII. 12.) 

TV2 sanctioned for omitting Jobbik’s stand on the IMF

OCTOBER 10, 2012: The Media Council has upheld a complaint of unbalanced reporting brought  by Jobbik against MTM SBS Televízió Zrt. , owner of TV2, on the grounds that the September 7, 2012 editions of its Tények and Tények este news shows, which both aired a segment on IMF loan negotiations, did not present Jobbik’s opinion. The Media Council argued that Jobbik’s viewpoint significantly differed from the other points of view presented in the news items and so it should have been included to present a balanced story. Jobbik’s viewpoint was included in two reports from Hungarian news agency MTI, entitled “IMF/EU negotiations – Jobbik: Orban’s announcement is just a farce” and “Jobbik protests against the austerity measures demanded by the IMF.”–Decision1790/2012. (X.10.) 

TV2 sanctioned for omitting Jobbik’s stand on the electoral system

SEPTEMBER 12, 2012: The Media Council handed down an unbalanced reporting sanction to MTM SBS Televízió Zrt., owner of TV2, on grounds that its July 27, 2012 news reports, which covered the introduction of the new electoral system and ran on Tények  and Tények este, did not present Jobbik’s relevant opinion.–Decision 1638/2012. (IX.12.) 

Public radio MR1 cleared in charge of omitting Jobbik’s stand on economic stimulus

AUGUST 29, 2012: The Media Council dismissed a complaint brought by Jobbik charging public station MR1 Kossuth Rádió with unbalanced reporting for omitting Jobbik’s opinion in a news item about the government’s economic stimulus package. The complaint concerned the program “180 perc,” aired on July 4, 2012. The Media Council ruled that even if the broadcaster did not present Jobbik’s press release about the government’s economic stimulus package, the radio show did present LMP’s opinion, which was basically identical to Jobbik’s missing point of view.–Decision 1559/2012. (VIII.29.) 

Media Council reaffirms decision of slight against Jobbik

AUGUST 29, 2012: In a second decision on the case, the Media Council upheld its original decision to hand down an unbalanced reporting sanction to Hir TV for its May 11, 2012 news broadcasts of Híradó “Cseresor” and Híradó 21, both of which dealt with the restructuring of the government. The Media Council decided that Hír TV should have presented Jobbik’s viewpoint on the issue because the broadcast did present the views of the MSZP and LMP parties.–Decision 1545/2012. (VIII.29.)

RTL Klub and TV2 sanctioned for omitting Jobbik’s opinion that abuse of a rabbi should not be condemned

JULY 5, 2012: The Media Council handed down an unbalanced reporting sanction against the news show Híradó on RTL Klub (owned by M-RTL Zrt.) and Tények on TV2 (owned by MTM-SBS Televízió Zrt.) for omitting Jobbik’s opposing viewpoint in their June 6, 2012 coverage of an incident when an unknown person abused József Schweitzer, the retired national chief rabbi, on the street. The news reports contained condemnations of the mistreatment of the rabbi by the Hungarian Historical Churches – a group representing Christian and Jewish congregations – the MSZP party, and the President of Hungary. Neither medium presented the viewpoint of Jobbik, which it made public at a press conference. Jobbik’s stance on the case was that it was outrageous that churches and the opposition make a big fuss about this incident when they say nothing about the atrocities that are faced by Hungarians living beyond the country’s borders.–Decision 1220-1221/2012. (VII. 5.)

RTL Klub cleared despite omitting Jobbik’s opinion on new government

JUNE 13, 2012: The Media Council dismissed the unbalanced reporting charge against RTL Klub with regard to its Híradó news show aired on May 11, despite the fact that a report did not present Jobbik’s stance related to the personnel changes in the government. The Media Council found that the news report included the opinion of the opposition, which was that the personal changes within the government do not change the flawed governmental policy. The president of the liberal LMP party apparently summed up this opinion by saying that only by removing György Matolcsy could there be a real turn in government policy. According to the Media Council, Jobbik’s statement was not significantly different from that, so it was not mandatory to include it in order to achieve balanced reporting.Decision 1103/2012. (VI. 13.)

Hír Televízió cleared despite omitting comment from NGO

JUNE 13, 2012: The Media Council dismissed a charge of unbalanced reporting leveled against Hír Televízió Zrt. with regard to its program Keresztmetszet, aired on February 9, 2012, despite the fact that the show did not include the opinion of the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (TASZ), a human rights NGO.The program had a segment entitled “Let’s listen to the other party,” that aired in response to an article published in The Guardian about the town of Gyöngyöspata, where men in paramilitary uniforms were intimidating local Roma. The report was intended to refute the way the situation was portrayed in an article in The Guardian. Hír TV’s report contained the opinions of the cabinet chief of Gyöngyöspata’s local council, its notary and the president of the minority self government, as well as the director of the local school and its gym teacher. Although TASZ’s opinion was omitted from the report, the Media Council dismissed the charge of unbalanced reporting, ruling that the “program only ventured to give room to opinions that might differ from the viewpoints presented in The Guardian’s article.”–Decision 1100/2012. (VI. 13.)

No unbalanced reporting sanction for public TV report claiming Roma reproduce carelessly and do not work

APRIL 4 and April 18, 2012: The Media Council dismissed two different complaints of unbalanced reporting for a program broadcast March 7, 2012 on public television station MT1 that maintained Roma are people who reproduce without thinking, do not work, have high rates of alcohol consumption, and often go to prison.Complaints about the program covering “the Gypsy-Hungarian cohabitation,” entitled “Pesty Fekete Doboz A cigány-magyar együttélés,” alleged extreme one-sidedness and added that the editors did not make an attempt to present credible social and scientific analysis, or expert opinions that oppose or refute the anti-Roma statements quoted in the report. The complainants cited evidence that the show gave inaccurate statistics on alcoholism and unemployment among Roma. In Decision 633/2012. (IV. 4.), the Media Council refused to consider one complaint against the public TV broadcast on the grounds that the complainants missed a deadline. In Decision 720/2012. (IV. 18.), the Media Council rejected another complaint about the same show because the complainant did not follow the appropriate rules and procedures for complaining.–Decisions 633/2012. (IV. 4.) and 720/2012. (IV. 18.)

TV2 cleared for omitting Jobbik’s opinion on a pool closing

APRIL 18, 2012: The Media Council dismissed charges of unbalanced reporting made by Jobbik after the party complained that its opinion was omitted from a story in the March 7, 2012 broadcast of TV2’s news program Tények about the closure of the swimming pool at Kazincbarcika.The Media Council ruled that TV2’s broadcast did not violate the obligation of multifaceted, factual, timely, objective and balanced reporting as specified in Smtv. 13. §, nor the obligation of balanced reporting as specified in Mttv. 12. §.–Decision 721/2012. (IV. 18.)

TV2 sanctioned for omitting Jobbik’s stand on EC decision

MARCH 14, 2012: The Media Council sanctioned TV2 (owned by MTM-SBS Televízió Zrt.) for unbalanced reporting in its news show Tények for failing to represent the viewpoint of the Jobbik party in its February 22, 2012 report about a decision made by of the European Commission that day.–Decision 512/2012. (III.14.)

RTL Klub cleared of charges of one-sided coverage of a sled crash

MARCH 7, 2012: The Media Council dismissed the allegation of unbalanced reporting brought by the mayor of Sátoraljaújhely against RTL Klub for a January 5, 2012 report about a sled accident in Satoraljaújhely. The mayor had claimed that the journalist’s decision to only interview the two accident victims was irresponsible because it placed the fault of the accident exclusively on the condition of the slope, ignoring any responsibility of the sledders. The Media Council dismissed the complaint.–Decision458/2012. (III.7.) 

Complaint of depiction of Roma by ‘Napló’ is dismissed

FEBRUARY 7, 2012: The Media Council dismissed complaints by two citizens who claimed that a segment on TV2’s Napló program (January 8, 2012) about people living in deep poverty paints a negative image of Roma. The complainants had argued: “This report conveys the message that the social problem described in the report is a ‘Roma problem.’ The report subjects and the shots show Roma in stereotypical conditions: a poor, dirty living environment, a Roma settlement or similar place, a lot of children, idle people standing in groups.” The Media Council ruled that claims of imbalance were not proven in this case.–Decision 251/2012 (II.7.) and 252/2012 (II.7.)

TV2 sanctioned for omitting Jobbik’s stance 

JANUARY 11, 2012: The Media Council gave TV2 a sanction for unbalanced reporting after the Jobbik party complained that the November 29 broadcast of TV2’s program “Tények” did not present Jobbik’s opinion in the story about shots being fired at the mayor of Gyöngyöspata.–Decision 26/2012. (I.11.)

Media Council dismisses complaint of public news broadcast that airbrushed out Constitutional Court judge

JANUARY 18, 2012: The Media Council chose not to act on a complaint about the case of a public television news report in which former Constitutional Court President Zoltán Lomnici was digitally “airbrushed” out of a shot, apparently because he was out of favor with the government. A complaint charging the public television company, MTV Zrt, with unbalanced reporting was made by Ruttner Erno, president of the Televíziósok és Filmkészítok Független Szakszervezete (Independent Association of Television and Filmmakers). The Media Council did not explain why it decided against investigating the apparent alteration of coverage.–Decisons 118/2012. (I.18.), 119/2012. (I.18.) and 120/2012. (I.18.)

Public TV cleared on technicalities over complaint of unbalanced coverage of Green Party member Daniel Cohn-Bendit

DECEMBER,14 2011: The Media Council dismissed a complaint charging public TV news broadcast Híradó with giving an inaccurate and non-objective report about a April 1, 2011 press conference in which Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a member of the European Green Party, criticized plans for Hungary’s new constitution. The Cedia Council ruled that it would not investigate the complaint because it contained a formal mistake and was filed passed the required deadline–Decison 1870/2011. (XII. 14.)

RTL Klub cleared on complaint of neglecting Catholic university in coverage<strong >

DECEMBER 23, 2011: The Media Council dismissed a complaint charging that RTL Klub’s Híradó (Evening news) on July 22, 2011 violated the obligation of balanced reporting by not mentioning the minimum requirements for Pázmány Péter Catholic University’s International Management major in news item about the requirements for university entrance.–Decison 1706/2011. (XI. 23.)

TV2 sanctioned for omitting Jobbik view of leaked phone call

OCTOBER 19, 2011: The Media Council handed down an unbalanced reporting sanction against TV2 (owned by MTM-SBS Televízió Zrt.) for a July 19, 2011 news report about a leaked phone conversation between the mayor of Gyöngyöspata (elected as a member of the Jobbik party) and a local council deputy from Fidesz. The report was ruled that the segment, part of the Tények news show, unfair because it did not include the opinion of the Jobbik party.–Decision 1437/2011. (X.19.)