Political overtones in Hungary TV flap

Demonstrators took to the streets of Budapest last week and Hungarian President Arpad Goncz pleaded for restraint — all over recent decisions by Magyar Televizio management that effectively decimated its news division.

Political gridlock

Magyar Televizio’s moves could keep the nation’s TV sector in political gridlock.

The moves have also dashed expectations that this country’s state-regulated TV sector would soon be opened to private investment and development.

Two weeks ago, Magyar Televizio management, allegedly sympathetic to the nation’s conservative government, canceled “Evening Balance” (Esti Egyenleg), one of Hungary’s most popular nightly news programs, and suspended its editor-in-chief, Andras Bano.

“Now (the government) controls all the programs on Hungarian television,” said director and producer Tibor Sarodi. “They can cheat, lie and tell people whatever they want for the next six months right up until the election.”

Tensions rise

Magyar Televizio’s actions have heightened political tensions within the region’s broadcast sector, and diminished the likelihood that the liberalization of the Magyar television industry will continue, at least for the short term.

Bano had been charged with broadcasting falsified and erroneous coverage of a controversial political event — a speech by Goncz a year ago that, according to “Evening Balance,” had been disrupted by hecklers in skinhead and neo-fascist attire.

Some analysts contend Magyar Televizio’s management used the incident as an excuse to remove from the air one of the network’s most penetrating and objective new programs — a show that had been critical of Hungary’s Christian-conservative government.

According to these analysts, the cancellation of “Evening Balance” is part of a government strategy to turn the state-owned web into a campaign platform for the national election scheduled in six months.

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