Budapest, Hungary – Along with the likes of nurses, doctors, firemen, policemen or emergency rescuers, teachers can rightly be considered among the professions most vital to the core functioning of our societies. It also ranks among the most under-valued ones.
It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that a global company like Deutsche Telekom choose to feature a nation’s educators as the main protagonists of their latest Christmas advert, filled with the timely message of hope, solidarity and companionship.
Said promotion using teachers could be observed across Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Poland, Romania, Germany, and many other countries throughout Europe. Telekom’s advert aired in Hungary, however, replaced the teacher with a long-distance bus-driver.
As a cost-saving and efficiency measure, multinational companies customarily film one original ad, which is then used in different countries with small adjustments and appropriate dubbing.
Why then is Hungary given a new take on Telekom’s Christmas message? Surely it wouldn’t have anything to do with the burgeoning teachers’ protests across the country?
According to a statement issued in its response to local media 444.hu, Deutsche Telekom’s subsidiaries – including Magyar Telekom – have the right to decide on their own which advertising they would like to use in their domestic communication campaigns.
The company also claimed that it decided, along with its international communications department, to develop a different version of the ad for the Hungarian market. Telekom’s reply however fails to explain why exactly the Hungarian-based ad did not feature a teacher.
In a later answer to Kreativ.hu, Telekom’s brand and resident communications director Bela Szabó argued that it was not professionally appropriate to bring a socio-political debate into the advertising space – at least acknowledging the link between the PR decision and the protests that have swept Hungary since early autumn for the defence of teachers’ rights and working conditions.
Adding that Telekom’s intention was to encourage people to turn to and help each other, Szabó pointed out that an ad featuring a teacher would have been too divisive, thus ruining the message they wanted to convey.
The need to steer clear of politics might have proved a more convincing argument if Deutsche Telekom, by conspicuously changing their advert for Hungary, hadn’t thus toed the government’s line and tailored their communication towards a specific voter base.
The company’s local track-record also invites further questions.
Past allegations have looked at Deutsche Telekom’s close relations with the government and its network of media – including in 2014, when the German conglomerate played a major role in the disintegration of Origo, turned since into a government mouthpiece (Origo was published by Origo Zrt., owned by Magyar Telekom, a subsidiary of the telecoms giant).
A compromised telecom sector?
The close cooperation between Magyar Telekom and Ferencváros’ football club, led by Fidesz vice-president Gábor Kubatov, or Deutsche Telekom’s aborted sale in 2019 of subsidiary T-Systems to circles close to the ruling party, are additional examples of the company’s problematic links with Hungary’s ruling elite.
Hungary may be a country of many contrasts, but these appear more and more absent from the country’s increasingly concentrated telecommunication sector.
A concern as of late has been the slow buyout of foreign companies by local dignitaries connected to the ruling party, as the market in Hungary lacks significant competition and 4iG, a company with ties to the government, further consolidated the market.
Three internet service providers – Magyar Telekom, DIGI, and Vodafone (formerly UPC) – controlled over 80% of the total fixed broadband market. Hungary also has four major mobile service providers: market leader Magyar Telekom, Yettel (formerly Telenor), Vodafone, and DIGI.
In January 2022, Romanian-owned DIGI sold 100% of the shares of its Hungarian operation to 4iG, a deal deemed of national importance by government decree. In August that same year, 4iG purchased 51% of Vodafone’s fixed-line and mobile business in Hungary, making 4iG the country’s second largest telecommunications company, and the Hungarian state acquired a 49% minority share in it.
Inside this changing landscape, Deutsche Telekom might find itself under growing scrutiny from public authorities, which could explain their accommodating stance with the Christmas ad. But if showcasing teachers as heroes was considered too “political” by Telekom’s management, deciding not to feature them is an equally political statement. And an unfortunate one.
By Mark Szabo
An international relations and European politics student at Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Republic, Márk grew up in a bi-cultural Slovak-Hungarian family, stoking his interest in Central European politics and cross-national relations. A former intern at the Bratislava-based Globsec Institute, Márk aims for a career in diplomacy.