Budapest, Hungary – Put your money where your heart is. Or, as others would have it, use taxpayers’ money to sway their hearts in your favor.
According to a study by investigative local outlet Atlatszo, the Hungarian government spent 69.3 billion forints (approximately 216 million euros) on propaganda and fear-mongering communication operations during the past eight years. Not only does the “taxpayer money spent on spreading these messages is growing every year”, but almost all “the companies that do the work and receive all this money (media outlets, outdoor advertising companies) are owned by businessmen close to the government”.
As Batorfy Attila, the author of the study points out, Viktor Orban‘s Fidesz “often complained that the government led by Ferenc Gyurcsany was spending too much on communication campaigns”, promising it wouldn’t fall in that trap when it would be in power. “This was true for a while”, mostly from 2010 to 2014, with a certain transparency about government spending on communications and media operations.
But things changed, and finding data about how much money the government spends on its “communication” are now hard to come by, and turns out to be a real obstacle course, as Atlatszo explains: “We regularly file freedom of information requests and ask to see the list of the latest contracts signed with media outlets and advertising agencies”. After having to pay for the data – talk about transparency and accountability – the office of Antal Rogan, Minister of the Prime Minister’s Cabinet Office and leader of the Fidesz parliamentary group, “sent us a bunch of PDF documents that were unreadable”.
With the help of Kantar Media, the Budapest-based reporters managed to uncover the amount the government spent to promote its views and agenda over the past several years: 216 million euros, all of which were destined to media and advertising companies owned by close affiliates to Orban, with the exception of French company JCDecaux.
The French outdoors advertising company faced a backlash last year for taking part to the government’s anti-migration campaign and for displaying anti-refugee visuals on its billboards throughout Hungary. A petition was launched to force JCDecaux to remove the displays. In response, the French company argued that “political campaigns are authorized on bill-posting in Hungary” and that “our advertising spaces are available for all political parties”.
The government spent more than 40 million euros alone for the 2017 anti-Soros campaigns – or its two “national consultations” and the communication of their results.
You can find more details about this topic on the original article, published in Hungarian here.
One of the leading investigative outlets in Hungary, Atlatszo has won several prizes and awards for its high-quality reporting, including for its story, published last year, about the use of luxury jets and yachts by Prime Minister Orban and the Hungarian political and business elite.