Hungarian government commissions in-depth study into “hostile” broadcaster – releases the details has obtained a report into the practices of RTL Klub television station, an independent and very popular tv channel, accused by the government of avoiding taxes and being unduly anti-government.  In fact, RTL, known for its populist entertainment shows, became highly critical of the Hungarian government following the announcement of a new tax on advertising revenues, which the station maintains specifically targets them. The research financed from taxpayer money compares the coverage delivered by RTL and its closest competitor TV2, which is owned by business circles close to the government.

The news periodical HVG was the first to report that the government had commissioned a detailed study to support the notion that the country’s leading commercial broadcaster, RTL Klub, maintains a negative tone in its coverage of government-related affairs. has obtained the report and released it to the public.

The mere existence of the document underlines what is already known to most Hungarians; which is that the government is trying to stifle the operations of foreign-owned RTL through the introduction of a tax, which was specially designed so that almost all the potential impact would fall on the German-owned television station.

During the past months, tensions have flared.  RTL’s daily news broadcasts are reporting consistently and in detail on stories of failed policies, political scandals or corruption. In its latest financial report, the RTL Group advised potential investors to be wary of Hungary. The government has responded publicly by lashing out at RTL, saying it has no right to criticize policies that serve to promote the public interest and that the company is only trying to avoid paying its fair share of the common burden, which it should be held to do given the profits it makes in the country.

The study looked at the news coverage between September, 2012 and May, 2013 and focused on the coverage of government measures on RTL and its main rival, TV2. The research found convincing evidence that RTL was consistently critical of government policies, which was highlighted all the more by the fact that the tone of coverage on TV2 – which is now owned by business interests close to the government – was becoming more favorable to the government. RTL coverage was 21% positive in tone compared to TV2’s 35%. The report also noted that RTL used “emotional hooks” to get its ‘hostile’ messages across.

The report highlighted that  RTL’s programming has prioritised keeping controversial issues on the agenda, such as unsuccessful education measures, public protests and budgetary amendments, while opting against extensive reporting on stories which featured prominently elsewhere, including municipal debt consolidation, minimum wage hikes or strengthening law enforcement.

The study also looked into the coverage of centrally reduced utility costs, which has been the centerpiece of the current government’s political agenda for a while now. The authors note that coverage of this issue has usually contained images of people living in poverty, aimed at reinforcing opinions critical of the favorable effects of the campaign.

Also interesting is that it is unclear who compiled the study and how much it cost the Hungarian taxpayer. Reports show that the material came from the collaboration between think-tanks supportive of the government, but no specifics are known.

The international reaction to these events in Hungary mostly consists of outrage that the government is taking such clear administrative steps to silence an independent media outlet, which rather should be admired for its outspoken criticism in its coverage of government dealings. This perspective should be balanced by the fact that in the past RTL had based its news coverage on human interest and tabloid stories, while ignoring more weighty topics such as politics or the economy – for as long as its profitability was intact. The turn towards more serious subjects only took place when the new advertising tax was announced.