Sajtószabadság, médiapolitika, médiapiac, médiaoktatás – a Mérték Médiaelemző Műhely szakmai blogja.


Hungarian News Monitoring, 2022 Election Campaign – Part 1

Through its analyses of the campaigns of the past few years, Mérték Media Monitor wishes to help individual voters and the institutions which are invested in the successful conduct of the election in understanding whether the prevailing news coverage is balanced, as well as to help orient those who seek to be properly informed during this time. With respect to the 2022 elections, we will publish a series of analyses[1] of the election coverage in the news shows of the three major television channels (Duna, TV2, RTL)[2] throughout the campaign period. The present report covers the presentation on television of the first ten days of the campaign (12 February – 22 February).

Similarly to previous years, the coverage of the commercial channels continues to be dominated by tabloid news and the depiction of accidents, fire incidents and crimes. Such items also figure heavily in the news on Duna Television. The share of public affairs news essentially made up one-third of all news on all of the channels we tracked, and we included a significant majority of these among the coded items because they potentially impact the outcome of the election directly or indirectly.

Figure 1 – The share of news items that directly or indirectly impact the election in the evening news shows

Although there was some variation between the channels in this respect, to a significant extent the news items featured in the news shows were based on issues determined by the government’s election communication.

Figure 2. The most frequently recurring news topics on the channels we tracked

An examination of the various topics reveals whose agenda the given topic aligns with. It is apparent that the government’s communication agenda has a decisive weight in the coverage of TV2 and Duna, while RTL’s coverage also features issues that reflect the opposition’s agenda.

Figure 3. The distribution of the news covered based on how they align with political agendas

Figure 4. The share of how often institutional players in politics were featured

During a campaign period it is of vital importance to what extent political players are provided with the possibility of conveying their views and opinions by commenting in person. While RTL’s news shows give the respective political sides roughly equal speaking time, on the two other channels political figures who are not affiliated with the government get negligible amounts of speaking time.

Figure 5. The share of politicians’ personal speaking time on the news (in seconds)

A typical editorial practice we observed in the news coverage of the channels that were more inclined to promote the government is that certain issues are presented for several days in a row as news with barely any changes in the presentation. The relentless repetition of simplified messages has emerged as a dominant practice which prevails at the expense of the presentation of actual public affairs news. With the exception of RTL, the nuanced coverage of disputed social issues, their presentation from various angles has ceased completely. When the news shows feature the opinions of either the government or the opposition on a given issue, then the given opinion is either presented on its own, deprived of its context, or in combination with the one-sided criticism of the opposing party.

One example of equal opportunities/unequal opportunities:

On the first day of the campaign, the Duna TV news show, Híradó, dedicated a long segment (280 seconds) to the campaign launch. In terms of the presentation of the facts, the news item featured the relevant events (signature collections, the oath taken by the members of the election commission, etc.) and predominantly used images to illustrate the underlying events (for the most part, Fidesz campaign stands and posters). The Fidesz candidate Richárd Hörcsik was given 30 seconds to say that he had collected the signatures in support of his candidacy very quickly and that this was evidence of the government’s successful policies since 2010. No other candidate who had successfully collected the necessary number of signatures was featured in the segment. The segment dedicated 50 seconds to saying that the government side has successfully submitted all the signatures necessary for nominating its candidates, while it also gave government spokesman István Hollik 39 seconds in a live report to reassert that the underlying message is that “people don’t want [to bring back] the failed past of the Gyurcsány era”. Next, the anchor used 15 seconds to objectively inform the viewers that the candidates of the Unified Opposition alliance had also collected the required number of signatures. Opposition candidates did not get the chance to offer their take on the successful signature collection, neither live nor in the summary of the show.

The editorial practice of political character assassination, the art of hammering a point

Péter Márki-Zay, the prime ministerial candidate of the Unified Opposition, gave a speech at a public forum in the town of Fónyod. In his speech he said that his rainbow coalition also represented communists and fascists, which caused a stir on both the left and the right. This quote by Márki-Zay reverberated widely in the media, and the candidate subsequently called it a misunderstanding, for which he apologised both orally and in an online post.

This news item was covered in the Duna TV news show for three days in a row, in a four­-minute segment each day. The same one-line footage was repeatedly screened every day; three times on the first day, twice on the second day and only once on the third. Although Péter Márki-Zay’s explanation was also covered, the pro-government experts invited to the studio to comment referred to his explanation as “obfuscation” and “inaccurate”. The only difference in terms of the editorial policy during the three days in question was that different “pro-government experts” were asked to comment each day, although their conclusion was always the same. A one-minute segment from a video on the YouTube channel of the pro-Fidesz opinion leader Philip Rákay, in which he called on the politician to “disappear” (using the informal way of addressing a person in Hungarian), was screened on two successive days.

The news show of TV2 also dedicated three four-minute segments to this news item. The TV2 news did not even feature Péter Márki-Zay’s explanation of his comments, only referring to the latter in the context of their own assessment that the explanation was unacceptable. The impugned comment was repeated three times on the first day, and once during each of the following two days. The experts asked to comment on TV2 overlapped significantly with those featured on Duna TV, and TV2 also found Philip Rákay’s video commentary on YouTube and quoted it at length. A new feature as compared to the news show on Duna TV was that TV2 also dug up older comments by the opposition’s candidate for prime minister, which he had uttered two years earlier when he said that he would appreciate the support of the voters of both, Jobbik and the Workers’ Party, in his municipal election effort. These comments were cited in the context of portraying him as “racist”.

RTL did not deem the line uttered at the Fónyod forum, which was liable to give rise to misunderstandings, as worthy of a mention.

[1] The analysis is supported by German Marschall Fund

[2] In our survey we record and subsequently analyse the news shows with the help of a pre-designed coding system. The coding is performed by trained coders who rotate the shows they track each week. We generally process the data using statistical methods.