Cartoon wars: Hungary and Germany trade jabs

A battle of words and wit between German TV and Hungarian officials and journalists continued this week over recent cartoons aired on German state TV calling the Hungarian Government undemocratic and saying it controls the media.

The tiff began March 16, when German public TV station ran an animated segment for children called “Red Card for Hungary,” which says the Hungarian Government’s policies are anti-democratic and violate EU norms.The segment also says that the Hungarian Government controls the media to ensure that news outlets only report positive news of government policies.

The cartoon sparked rebukes from top Hungarian officials, including Prime Minister Orbán, who stated on public radio that in Hungary, “journalists who would make such programs would immediately be fired.”

German state TV channel NDR followed days later with a segment mocking Orbán, featuring an image of the prime minister’s head pasted onto the body of a clown, that heaped further criticism on the Hungarian prime minister and his campaign of “propaganda.”

Pro-government Hungarian news channel Hír TV responded with its own cartoon which said that Germany is a powerful country with enough money to make silly cartoons, but that Germans have no right to judge others because they are discriminate against their Turkish minority and have not outlawed the Nazi party.

The latest salvo in the cartoon saga occurred this week, with a video posted on YouTube mocking Hungary’s public media for covering only light, de-politicized news, reminiscent of communist-era style news reporting. The video compares the March 29 evening news show on Hungarian public TV program Híradó with that of the German public TV Tagesschau, aimed at demonstrating the dramatic difference in news coverage between the two stations.

While both newscasts lead with coverage of the new Pope on Good Friday, the number two story on Híradó about brisk seasonal sales of ham and chocolate bunnies in Hungary is juxtaposed with Tagesschau’s coverage of heightening tensions between the US and North Korea, as well as Italy’s efforts to establish a new government.

Hungary’s public media management body, the MTVA, removed the first Youtube posting, claiming that the rebroadcast of “Híradó” infringed on Hungarian public TV’s copyright. The video was re-posted, and as of April 4, it was viewable here.

Amid the cartoon wars, one of the more serious reports criticizing the Hungarian Government’s policies ran on 3SAT, a cultural TV channel operated by the German, Austrian and Swiss public service media. In its “Kulturzeit” (“Culture Time”) program, 3SAT ran a special report that began with the fracas over the kids’ cartoon and went on to talk about dramatic changes to Hungary’s Constitution, the politics behind changes at the Hungarian National theater, and other concerns about the political situation in Hungary. The “Kulturzeit” segment also featured interviews with well-known Hungarian intellectuals, who spoke against what they called the government’s antidemocratic policies as well as the growing anti-Semitism. Fidesz representatives say the piece was part of a campaign to discredit Hungary, run by the left-wing opposition.