press freedom

„Disgusting, extremely annoying” – our journalist insulted at a public forum

István Szabó, President of the Pest County Assembly, and László Magyari, President of Magyar Közút Zrt. in Pest County were caught by a microphone accidentally left-on, as they made derogatory comments about our journalist. Although the discussion was not intended for the general public, the online listeners of the residents’ forum of Göd could hear everything, as they forgot to switch off the microphones. This is not the first time that a journalist from Atlatszo has been insulted.

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A public forum was held in Göd on 16 September with the aim to listen to the views of local residents on the renovation of a 500-metre long stretch of road. The event was organisedby the Pest County Municipality: the county manages the tax revenue from the special economic zone of Göd and is using it to finance the HUF 800 million renovation of this section of road. The reason for the public forum was that the local population wanted the county’s decision-makers to ease traffic on the road to be renovated.

The event was attended by many local residents and by the representatives of the Samsung factory. István Szabó (Fidesz-KDNP), President of the Pest County Assembly, and Tibor Szép, the county notary who chaired the forum, promised that in addition to the problems related to the road renovation, “it will be possible to ask about other issues as well”. Indeed, residents wanted to ask questions about the further expansion of Samsung and the continuing noise pollution from the factory. But there was no time for these questions during the nearly five-hour event.

Our colleague, Zsuzsa Bodnár also participated at the event. Bodnár is also the leader of a local NGO, called Göd-ÉRT Egyesület. She and other residents raised other issues besides the road renovation at around 9pm and asked for another time to discuss further questions.

They thought they could not be heard

During a break in the forum, István Szabó and László Magyari, director of Magyar Közút Zrt. in Pest County talked about the participants. They obviously thought that no one could hear them; however, because of a microphone accidentally left on, their words could be heard by the followers of the online broadcast. (The video of the public hearing shows the conversation from 4:18 onwards.)

They spoke in a rather derogatory way of the forum participants, who they said had made „contradictory requests”. Szabó then described our author as a „disgusting, extremely annoying” journalist “writing for Atlatszo and Index”, who „constantly attacked” them with her questions; to which the director of Magyar Közút responded:

„it’s a wonder she hasn’t been beaten up yet.”

Zsuzsa Bodnár’s articles on the Samsung investment in Göd were presumably the basis of the county president’s dislike. Our journalist was the one who wrote that the former mayor of Göd from the governing party, Fidesz asked the government to create an industrial area in Göd. The aim was to locate the giant investment in the city, but in order to obtain EU funding and to deceive the public, the name of Samsung had to be concealed in the application, according to an audio recording of the council meeting obtained by Bodnár. And in her latest article on the subject, she wrote that Samsung SDI had operated several of its factories without fire safety equipment, despite bans and penalties from the Hungarian authorities, and without permits for use.

Smear campaign against Zsuzsa Bodnár in Göd, September 2020

Investigative articles can harm multiple interests, which is why last year the local Fidesz organisation launched a smear campaign against our journalist. Márk Csabai, the spokesman of the local government party, published a press release in a local newspaper calling on Bodnar to stop her “incitement campaign against the residents of Göd”.

At the same time, leaflets „exposing” Bodnár were also distributed in the city. The journalist filed a complaint with the police against an unknown perpetrator.

However, the Dunakeszi Police Station closed the case after a few months for lack of criminal offence.

The reason given was that Bodnár, who is also the head of a local civil association, is a „public figure who voluntarily takes a role in the public life in Göd” and must bear the criticism that is directed at her activities. The statements on the leaflet – Lies! Shee misleads unsuspecting people! A deceitful provocateur! – are, according to the police, merely „exaggerated negative criticism” and only serve to „raise doubts about the credibility of journalistic activity”.

„Filthy communist”

This is not the first time that a journalist has been called various names by a politician because of his/her articles. The most recent case was connected to István Bács, a Fidesz MP and former deputy mayor of Érd, when our colleague asked him why he did not declare the HUF 71 million member loan to his own company in his asset declaration.

Instead of a substantive answer, Bács wrote the following: „I hope I don’t offend you, but in my private opinion you are a lying, malicious, manipulative, rotten to the core, filthy communist who would sell his soul to stand out among his fellow propagandists in front of his masters and other similar unprincipled nobodies”.

Cover photo: István Szabó, President of the Pest County Assembly and László Magyari, President of Magyar Közút Zrt. of Pest County, as they are talking about the participants and a colleague of our newspaper during a break in the forum.

Translated by Zita Szopkó. The original Hungarian version of this article is available here

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