Monthly disinformation roundup – Szájer and the vaccination were the most popular stories
December has been quite an interesting month in connection with disinformation in Hungary. We could read several fake stories about the covid vaccines, but the scandal of József Szájer was by far the most popular topic. This is our monthly disinformation review.
The Szájer scandal and its representation
Disinformation doesn’t only refer to fake news, but to any kind of misleading information that could deceive the public. So as a consequence, it can also be interesting to examine what are the stories that pro-government media outlets witheld or mention in a totally different, far more restrained way.
The recent scandal of the Hungarian MEP (founing member of Hungary’s ruling party, Fidesz, which is openly hostile to LGBTQ people), József Szájer is a perfect example of this case. The background of the story is the sudden resignation of Szájer for which he had blamed „increasing mental strain”.
However, a fed days later a Belgian newspaper published the real story, according to which he had been present at a sex party in a private apartment in Brussels, along with 20 other men, thus completely violating the measures related to the COVID pandemic.
What is more, he had attempted to flee from the police through the window of the apartment and the police also found drugs in his backpack.
However, if someone has only read pro-government news outlets, it may seemed disturbing why he had to resign, as these sites tended to present the events in a particularly suble way: as a house-party where the only problem was the violation the rules of the curfew in Brussels.
In spite of the fact that several independent news outlets (domestic and internationals as well) has published the story in the morning, the Hungarian News Agency (MTI) has waited until 5 p.m. Another popular narrative was trying to put the blame on other by reinforcing the view that this is a planned, deliberate defamatory campaign directed against him. Another popular narrative apperared in the show of Pesti TV, which suggested thatthe whole scandal is a revenge from Brussels for the Hungarian veto, stating that it was clearly organised by the secret services.
COVID-19 was still a popular topic
In the Hungarian public discourse, the coronavirus epidemic and, more precisely, the issue of the vaccine was one of the most popular topic in December, because of the fact that the Prime Minister’s Office announced the launch of a registration campaing for the vaccination. Later, on the regular press conference the news site HVG has asked a question about the vaccines: they wanted to know if it would be possible to choose from the different vaccines available, (as the government also recived samples from China and Russia, which stirred tension in the EU as many scientists are unsure about the safety of the Sputik-V vaccination) and what happens if someone submits their registration but later decide that they don’t want to be vaccinated.
Chief Medical Officer Cecília Müller answered by stating that the vaccination will start with vaccines that vaccines that Hungarian health authorities have found to be effective and safe, therefore, the quality, quantity, type and origin of the vaccine cannot be chosen. However, a few month before Viktor Orbán stated the oppsite, as 444.hu pointed out, as he said in Kossuth Rádió that it is possible that there will be several types of vaccines available, from which anyone van choose the one they trust more. As a response, the national coronavius information page, koronavirus.gov.hu accused the site with spreading fake news.
They explained the words of Cecília Müller stating that at the moment there is no available vaccine in Hungary, therefore, it is not possible to chosse from them either. However, during the press conference the Chief Medical Officer forget to mention this when she answered the question.
The narratives attacking the opposition in connection with the pandemic were also common, even during the Christmas holiday. In 29 December, Magyar Nemzet published an article where they accused the left-wing parties are propbably on the side of anti-vaccination.
Therefore, the site concludes that it is possible that the opposition would try to undermine the trust in vaccination.
Another story in connection with the pandemic is connected to Viktor Orbán, who said in an interview that the opposition is hoping for the pandemic to be as severe as possible. Meanwhile, the government is on the side of patients, doctors, and those who are in need.
This narrative later appeared in several pro-governmental news site sas well, for example Magyar Nemzet wrote that the oppositon becomes happier when the situation of the government and Hungary as a whole worsens due to the pandemic.
The usual suspects: George Soros and the dangers of migration
The propaganda-sites are yet again loyal to their narratives, as the topic of migration and the so-called Soros plan was mentioned several times in their articles. For example, Magyar Nemzet wrote thath left-wing parties would like to increase the number of their voters „flooding” migrants to Hungary and Europe as well.
Szájer was not the only politician from Fidesz who apperead in the news this month. Tamás Deutsch, Hungarian MEP also had some awkward moments after he insulted the chairman of the European People’s Party (EPP), by accusing him of using the language of the Gestapo over Hungary in connection to the EU’s rule of law mechanism. He later apologised, but the EPP decided to sanction him.
Later, Péter Szijjártó, Foreign Minister of Hungary refered to the events as a „hysteria and a witch hunt against Deutsch” He also added that “if all members of the EPP worked like Deutsch, they might be able to perform better in the EP.” Hirado.hu also presented the story very timidly, saying that Deutsch had a statement in which he used a strong analogy, which hurted the feeling of many people in the European People’s Party.
Some might think that the same old evil Soros-narratives are fading away in the governement’s communication but there are always examples that proves otherwises. This month one of the most famous one was connected to Viktor Orbán, who explained in front of the Parliament that Soros, the „leader of the Hungarian opposition” is disappointed because the government managed to enforce their will according to the rule of law criteria in the EU-budget and coronavirus recovery plan.
As the propaganda-site, Pesti Srácok wrote, the influence of the American billionare can be seen in the Constitutional Court of Hungary, and it also dealt with our newspaper, the Atlatszo. According to the site:„although in theory Átlátszó is a press product, in reality it is more like a private investigation office” because of the fact that we regularly publish camera drone videos.
Written by Zita Szopkó
Cover photo: vakcinainfo.gov.hu