France’s media landscape is at risk of a ‘Hungarian-style’ drift

France’s media landscape is at risk of a ‘Hungarian-style’ drift

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The Bolloré group’s media outlets have regularly been accused of taking their cues from Fox News. However, as the Breton billionaire Vincent Bolloré buys up more and more TV and radio channels and newspapers, bringing their editorial teams to heel, the French media landscape has increasingly come to resemble that of a country much closer to home: Hungary. Since 2010 and his return to power in the central European country, nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban has succeeded in bringing a large part of the media under his thumb, on the pretext of fighting against “left-wing” journalists.

Using migration issues, “wokism” or the war in Ukraine as fronts, subjects that are treated in a non-journalistic way with the sole aim of scaremongering, the media have become Orban’s best weapon for staying in power, notably by diverting attention from embarrassing corruption scandals. “Whoever controls a country’s media decides who controls that country’s ways of thinking and, therefore, who controls that country,” summed up his current political director, the highly influential Balazs Orban (no relation to the prime minister), in an eloquent speech in early 2023.

Using messages decided directly by the prime minister’s office, the Hungarian government-aligned media outlets can attack political opponents, non-governmental organizations, or the European Union without ever bothering with the essential principles of journalistic ethics, such as asking the incriminated party for comment . Fake news is the daily fare for a large proportion of Hungarians, while the last remaining professional journalists trying to establish a common truth have found it increasingly difficult to make themselves heard.

A dangerous idea

Of course, France is not yet in such a situation, if only because the French far-right which so admires Orban is not yet in power here, and thus it cannot attack the independence of public broadcasters. However, the Hungarian leader’s media strategy should alert all those who wish to avoid a political shift toward the far right. Indeed, it was between 2002 and 2010, when he was in opposition, that Orban began to establish control over the media landscape, with the help of a politically-aligned businessman.

Read more Subscribers only A deep dive into the heart of Viktor Orban’s propaganda machine

When he was defeated in the 2002 parliamentary elections, he blamed it on “the liberal public thinking that dominates the media” and vowed to do everything in his power to prevent it from happening again. He enlisted the help of Lajos Simicska, a wealthy entrepreneur and long-time supporter of his Fidesz party who had already bought Magyar Nemzet, the country’s leading conservative daily newspaper. In 2003, he financed the creation of a television channel, Hir TV, which was run by Orban’s former spokesperson. At the same time, Orban organized demonstrations outside public television offices, calling for a referendum to “split it into two channels,” with the ludicrous aim of enabling each of Hungary’s two main parties to have its own television station.

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