December 15, 2016
RE: CBC’ recent newscast on Hungary and the migrant crisis
Video report: Hungary’s contradictions
Article: A nasty Hungarian national mood rejects immigrants — and journalists
Citizens rely on the media to create awareness, foster public discourse, and strengthen society. Citizens also demand that media, as an integral part of democracy, adhere to a standard of integrity and accuracy that befits its role in modern society. What recourse exists therefore when the media is wrong? What steps should good citizens take when misinformation is veiled in reporting and the shaping of public opinion is orchestrated in a careless manner?
CBCs The National recently featured a rather lengthy report entitled “Hungary’s contradictions” on November 24, 2016. This was followed by an article entitled “A nasty Hungarian national mood rejects immigrants — and journalists” on Dec. 11, 2016. It is with considerable regret that CBC has once again opted to publish a report about Hungary with incorrect and misguided information that should be seen to tarnish not Hungary’s reputation, but CBCs prominence.
Both of CBCs reports begin with images from extremist elements in Hungarian society that exist in direct violation of Hungarian law. The Hungarian government has on numerous occasions distanced itself from the actions of civilian defense groups, ensured that law and order prevail, and that enforcement against extremist groups is investigated and prosecuted. While extremist elements do exist in Hungary, they do so in insignificantly small numbers and in insignificant groups. By comparison, one would not label Canada as a burgeoning far right-wing or extremist haven even though white supremacists, ethnic hatred, racially motivated crimes, and high profile anti-Semitic actions have occurred across Canada. A minority does not represent a society as a whole and should be contextualized as such. A minority does not represent a societal trend.
Since the free and fair election of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, and the outbreak of the migrant crisis in Hungary and Europe, there has been a free-for-all among media accusing Hungary of a gradual shift to authoritarianism, corruption, restrictions on the freedom of press and civil society, and the curbing of judicial independence. Accusations have been a dime a dozen, but any real evidence or proof of those claims has been few and far between. Even a cursory examination of Hungarian newspapers reveals a shockingly free exchange of ideas and criticism of government and ideologies on both sides of the political spectrum. Journalists are free to operate anywhere in Hungary and are only challenged (a freedom not always so openly embraced in Canada) when they report misinformation. The closing of the Népszabadsag, a left-wing daily newspaper, was a result of financial difficulties and not, as suggested, a government conspiracy. Should we therefore call the closure of newspapers in Guelph and Nanaimo in 2016 into question as government meddling? In fact, 23 newspapers have been closed in British Columbia alone over the past decade. Further, Hungary’s judiciary remains transparent and the government’s only attempt to reform the body was intended to ensure a healthy transition and turnover from long-term serving individuals, many of whom served under previous Communist governments. One wonders if stalled talks of Senate or democratic reform in Canada as part of political maneuvering by the governing party could be similarly likened to democratic backsliding.
Many in the media have also seized on Hungary’s limited capacity to handle the migrant crisis as a fortuitous moment to label the small central European nation as a dictatorship, racist, anti-Muslim, and worthy of removal from the European Union. Central to their argument are the more than 200,000 Hungarians who fled Hungary as genuine refugees during the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, and those arriving at Hungary’s borders now. How interesting that those same claims omit debates about the very important differences between economic and political migrants, genuine and non-genuine refugees, the role of human smugglers, and the burden inherent in accepting large numbers of people from often divergent cultures and beliefs. It is discussion of these salient points that would afford a more accurate and fulsome discussion of the migrant crisis and multicultural societies. The only signs of tyranny or authoritarianism one can see are those imposed on states who have decided to protect their identity, their culture and their borders. Critics who speak of perceived Hungarian perceptions to the current migrant crisis would do a great service to also speak of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s 2010 statement on the failure of multiculturalism and integration by migrants in Germany. Or for example, the failures of integration in the banlieues of Paris, the conditions of migrant temporary housing in Calais, or the lack of security for German citizens celebrating in Cologne. What appear to be isolated events could so easily be characterized as a national “nasty” mood.
CBC has demonstrated with great effect its intent to overlook historical context. It has only been 71 years since the end of World War II. Hungary indeed requires the time and due process to examine its history, its triumphs, and its failures. From 1945 to 1989 no one in Hungary was allowed to discuss history, only the version forced upon it by an occupying power. I believe history deserves more respect than to assume a nation with almost 2,000 years of history should resolve all outstanding debates in the 27 years since freedom was won in 1989. CBCs attempt to demonstrate a veiled connection between Hungary during World War II, the Hungary of 1956, and the Hungary of 2016 is highly irresponsible. Comparisons of that nature, without context or analysis, demonstrates a significant lack of awareness to the complexities of history and the realities of present-day.
Finally, it has been suggested by CBC that perceived hatred and intolerance in Hungary could be “spread” to Hungary’s neighbours. It is shameful that while Hungarian minorities in Slovakia, Romania, Serbia, Ukraine among others continue to experience harassment and discrimination if they attempt to use their native language. What of the hatred and intolerance shown towards the Székely people, an ethnic group of Hungarian origin in Transylvania, who only ask for a measure of self-autonomy to guide their future, only to be forcefully declined with government sponsored measures aimed at suppressing and oppressing their identity. Or, for example, the countless cases of discrimination, abuse, vandalism, and ethnic hatred shown to Hungarian minorities in their ancestral lands, such as present day Slovakia, Serbia, Transylvania, Carpatho-Ukraine. In fact, Hungary has always been a bastion of ethnic tolerance and has a long history of welcoming and accepting foreigners. By doing so, Hungary, during its long history, existed as one of the first examples of a multicultural society, something that Canada cherish and benefit so greatly today. Perhaps CBC mistakenly overlooked the last century of history in central Europe.
NAHC/KMOSz, therefore, resents these reports as it finds them highly damaging to the reputations of the Hungarian people in Canada and worldwide, and it requests that CBC consider a correction or revision to the two reports published in November and December of this year. At the very least, input should be sought from organizations like the National Alliance of Hungarians in Canada and similar organizations who may be able to provide more accurate information for future CBC reports. Media integrity must remain a strategic goal for reporters and media across the country and not a mere catch-phrase. CBC has done a great disservice to Hungary and the Hungarian people and should demonstrate actionable willingness to make corrections moving forward.
This press release has been delivered to:
His Excellency Dr. Bálint Ódor
Dr. Stefánia Szabó
Hungarian Consul General
Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Board of Directors