Hungary Table of Contents
In Hungary the media served as instruments of regime policy, so their primary task was to promote the party's policies. Although other organizations, such as the PPF, the Communist Youth League, and the trade unions, produced their own publications, the regime controlled their content (see Mass Organizations , ch. 2). In the 1980s, the regime continued to suppress other sources of information, although it made available in hotels some Western periodicals and newspapers. The regime banned private ownership of the media.
In the late 1980s, Hungary had no censorship laws. However, informal censorship occurred in a number of different ways. Both the party and the government had organs for censorship. The party set guidelines, which were transmitted from its Department for Agitation and Propaganda to the lower party organs and to the editors in chief of the media. The Council of Ministers' Information Bureau acted as the government's agency for censorship (see Council of Ministers , this ch.). The Hungarian Telegraph Agency (Magyar Tavirati Iroda--MTI) was the primary source of information for the media. Because the news media often lacked other sources of information, they depended on MTI for materials. MTI could thus exercise centralized control over the kinds of information that appeared in print or over the airwaves. The regime carefully selected editors and informed them about party and government censorship standards. Editors could be fired for failure to comply with these standards. For example, in 1983 Ferenc Kulin, editor of Mozgo Vilag (World In Motion), lost his position for "systematic defiance" of party directives. Editors often exercised informal censorship, rejecting an article, for instance, because they claimed it did not suit the profile of their publication. Editors also exercised censorship when they recommended changes to a work that removed or softened its politically sensitive parts. Paradoxically, the lack of censorship standards encouraged editors to take a conservative approach to censorship to ensure that their publications did not include materials that might offend anyone in authority.
On March 20, 1986, the National Assembly passed a new press law defining the "rights and duties of journalists and the right of the public to fast and timely information." The law compelled government officials to respond to requests for information from reporters. Journalists, however, had to submit a copy of their article to people they had interviewed for it. The law prevented the publication of materials that "would hurt the constitutional order of the People's Republic and its international interests . . . and public morals." Critical pieces of writing could be rejected on that basis. In addition, according to Politburo member and Central Committee secretary Berecz, the law proscribed questioning Hungary's "socialist achievements" and its "national historical and moral values."
Hungary had three major daily newspapers: Nepszabadsag (People's Freedom), the official organ of the HSWP; Nepszava (People's Voice), the organ of the trade unions; and Magyar Nemzet (Hungarian Nation), the organ of the PPF and the most liberal of the three newspapers. Nepszabadsag was the party daily and had a circulation of approximately 467,000 in early 1989. In November 1988, a new daily--A Nap (The Sun)--began publication with a circulation of between 80,000 and 100,000 a day. An afternoon paper--Esti Hirlap (Evening News)--had a circulation of between 200,000 and 250,000 a day.
The regime also published a number of specialized journals. Tarsadalmi Szemle (Social Review) was the HSWP's ideological monthly; it had a circulation of approximately 41,000. Partelet (Party Life) had a circulation of about 130,000. Other, more obscure journals contained more interesting subject matter by virtue of their lower circulation and more specialized audiences. Valosag (Reality) was intellectually the most stimulating journal because it dealt with politically sensitive and highly unorthodox topics.
Most provincial journals treated only topics of regional interest. Nevertheless, Jelenkor (Present Age), published in Pecs, and Forras (Source), published in Kecskemet, had wider audiences because they included interviews with national literary figures and scholarly research from Budapest. Tiszataj (Tisza Country), published in Szeged, claimed a wide readership because it published materials on Hungarian national minorities living outside the country. However, in 1986 the government banned Tiszataj because of "publication policy mistakes." The editors were dismissed and subjected to party discipline. The publication reappeared in 1987, and the party rehabilitated the editors in early 1989.
In the late 1980s, television was the most popular form of entertainment. Approximately 95 percent of Hungarian households had a television set. In the early and mid-1980s, Hungarians watched an average of 140 minutes of television programs per day. Programming on the country's two channels ran from mid-afternoon to late at night. In addition, some hotels and local cable and aerial systems had the equipment to receive and transmit Westernrelayed satellite programs. Near the country's western border, households with a good roof antenna could receive one Austrian, two Yugoslav, and two Czechoslovak channels.
Hungary's three radio stations broadcast a variety of programming. In addition, Hungary concluded a radio agreement with Austria to establish a joint German-language radio station called Radio Danubius. In May 1986, the station began broadcasting a twelve-hour program. The station eventually was to attain economic self-sufficiency through advertising.
In the late 1980s, videocassette recorders (VCRs) became very popular in Hungary. At the end of 1987, VCRs numbered between 200,000 and 300,000, and an estimated 1 million people had access to a VCR. In 1984 Hungary became the first East European country to have stores renting videotapes, and more than fifty videotape outlets existed in late 1987. The government-operated outlets, however, had only 800 titles and a total of only 15,000 copies. Illegally produced, copied, and distributed cassettes accounted for 80 percent of the videotape market. These tapes treated taboo themes such as religion, anti-Soviet sentiments, sex, and violence. The regime acknowledged that these tapes had spread throughout the country like a "contagious disease" and held them responsible for the rise in the crime rate, increased drug use, and the higher suicide rate (see Health , ch. 2).
Data as of September 1989
Hungary Table of Contents