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IFJ condemns political manipulation at public TV stations

(IFJ/IFEX) – 13 December 2011 – The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), the European group of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), today supported the struggle of Hungarian journalists and their unions against political interference in the country's media amidst allegations of manipulation in news reporting. The Federation was reacting to threats of sacking concerning journalists at two public TV stations whom unions consider as 'scapegoats' and victims of a 'cover up' to shield managers from their responsibility.

"We are horrified to see that public television channels that should respect high ethical standards are in fact deliberately manipulating news reports and threatening journalists who speak up for their rights," said EFJ President Arne König. "This case illustrates the bias and political interference in the Hungarian media. It needs a serious and independent investigation."

On 3 December, public television channels Duna and MTV showed a blurred image of the former head of the Supreme Court, Mr. Zoltán Lomnici, whom reports claim to be "persona non grata" in public media. An internal "investigation" found that three people were allegedly responsible, an image editor, a reporter and one editor on duty who were subsequently sent a formal warning. However, the journalists' union leaders accused management of making these three people scapegoats because they acted upon orders from their superiors.

The Public Media Trade Union asked for further independent investigations and lodged a formal complaint with the media authority, MTVA.

In the meantime, the head of the news department has threatened to fire the image editor and the reporter, but journalists question his ability to act with impartiality and fairness, pointing out that he was suspected of manipulating the report of a press conference by Green MEPs in Budapest in April 2011, where he allegedly changed the order of images during the news report.

The president of the Council of Public Media Trade Unions, Mr. Balazs Nagy Navarro, started a hunger strike on 10 December to call for a fair and independent inquiry into this recent case of manipulation and to defend the rights of journalists, as well as the right of the public to receive independent information.

The EFJ also recalls that an international mission to Hungary of professional organisations and civil society groups on 14-16 November warned of the "chilling effect" on press freedom by the current public media governance and raised questions about the capacity of the reorganized system of public service media to provide pluralist, diverse and quality information as a public good.

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