If the polls are to be believed, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban could win his third, consecutive election this April. Should that happen, the media there will have played a large part.

Since coming to power for the second time in 2010, the Orban government has devoted considerable energy and resources to restructuring the domestic media landscape in its favour.

According to the investigative journalism outlet Atlatszo.hu, allies of the prime minister and his Fidesz party have been buying up numerous, private Hungarian media outlets since 2010. Men like former Hollywood producer Andy Vajna and old school friend Lorinc Meszaros are among a group of 14 Orban allies who have collectively bought 20 television channels, 11 radio stations and close to 500 online and print organisations.

You can't write anything bad about the government. For example, when something is politically sensitive, I get instructions. In some cases, I have the whole ready-made article, so I don't need to do anything, no editing at all, just control C, copy and paste, the whole article. It's unimaginable, to be honest.

Whistleblower , MTVA

"Public media has been totally conquered by the government since 2010. Now they have four channels to communicate the rhetoric of the government. It's just full-time government propaganda," says Daniel Renyi, a journalist at 444.hu.

State media remains a powerful megaphone. The umbrella organisation, created by the Hungarian government in 2011, is called the MTVA and it oversees all public output across TV, radio and web. MTVA costs Hungarians more than $305m a year and is referred to by critics as "a taxpayer-funded propaganda network".

The Listening Post managed to speak to two MTVA employees who described a lack of editorial independence and a climate of fear. They're wary of speaking out and did so on the condition that we disguise their faces and their voices.

"Every single thing connected to domestic politics is restricted," says one of the MTVA employees. "You can't write anything bad about the government. For example, when something is politically sensitive, I get instructions. In some cases, I have the whole ready-made article, so I don't need to do anything, no editing at all, just control C, copy and paste, the whole article. It's unimaginable, to be honest."

Hungary's combination of tightly-controlled state media and private outlets owned by government-friendly tycoons means that most of the country's media is on the same page when it comes to some of the most important issues such as opposition figures, critical voices at the European Union and refugees.

"We figured out that the content creation is centralised," explains Renyi. "You can see that an information pops up somewhere, and in an hour all these media [outlets] that have been influenced by the government, referred to it and they spread it around."

Orban has publicly stated that "I am convinced that an essential part of national sovereignty is having the majority of a media system in national hands."

And even his worst enemies will concede this about Orban's media strategy: it's working. He has a healthy lead in the polls and, come the election in April, is likely to secure a third term.

The Listening Post's Flo Phillips reports on Orban's tightening grip on the Hungarian media.

Contributors:
Agnes Urban, media researcher, Mertek Media Monitor
Daniel Renyi, journalist 444.hu
Whistleblowers, MTVA

Source: Al Jazeera