Pro-government media has lost nearly 400 lawsuits for correction in the past 5 years
We have been tracking and publishing the number of lawsuits for correction for years: in 2017, pro-government media lost 53 cases, in 2018 109, in 2019 74 and in 2020 57 and 54 in 2021. We have summarised, and illustrated the last five years of data in charts.
Over the past 12 years, since Viktor Orbán and his party Fidesz have been leading Hungary, their rule have become synonymous with the construction of an “illiberal democracy” in Europe. Central to their strategy has been the process of media capture using the instruments of the state to create a bubble of pro-government media.
A MAGYAR HÍRMÉDIA ELMÚLT TÍZ ÉVE THE PAST TEN YEARS OF THE HUNGARIAN MEDIA
The typical method of the media products under the influence of Fidesz has been to write something false about an opposition politician, which is then taken up by the rest of the press empire. Of course, the people concerned sue and usually win, so t is very important to follow through on these cases, because it is of huge significance when a court of law says that a media outlet has deliberately made a false statement.
Which is exactly why we have been tracking and publishing the number of lawsuits for correction for years: in addition to the public service media, Origo, Magyar Nemzet, Pesti Srácok and others, which push government propaganda, we also presented the number of lawsuits for corrections lost by the independent editorial offices. In 5 years, the independent press has lost only 40 lawsuits, in whole or in part, or one-tenth as many as Fidesz media.
At the beginning of 2018, we published for the first time data on the number of lawsuits for correction lost by different media outlets. We received the figures from the Metropolitan Court of Budapest, following a public interest data request.
In our request, we asked how many lawsuits for correction were filed against 888, public service media (MTVA), Lokál, Magyar Idők, Origo, Pesti Srácok, Ripost and TV2, and how many such lawsuits were lost in whole or in part by these pro-government media outlets in 2017. For comparison, the same data were also requested for some of the independent media outlets: RTL Klub, the then non-Fidesz Index, 444, Magyar Nemzet, which was just enjoying a brief Fidesz-free period, and Átlátszó.
84 lawsuits lost in 2017, 109 in 2018, 73 in 2019
According to the data received from the Metropolitan Court of Budapest, in 2017, pro-government media listed above lost 53 cases completely and 31 partially, i.e. in total 84 cases were dismissed by the court. The record-breaker was Ripost with 16 failed cases, second was Pesti Srácok with 15. By contrast, Átlátszó did not lose a single case, while Index, RTL Klub, 444 and Magyar Nemzet lost a total of 14.
As 2018 was also the year of parliamentary elections, the government’s propaganda in the public media was taken to an all-time high as part of the campaign, with government ads stuffed with propaganda in the pro-government media.
At the beginning of 2019, we again asked the Metropolitan Court for data on lawsuits for correction for the largest Fidesz and a few independent media products. Based on the figures we received, we wrote that in 2018, a total of 109 lawsuits were lost in whole or in part by media outlets linked to the governing party. Origo was in the lead with 44 failed cases, Ripost was in second place with 22, and Magyar Idők was third with 14 losses. By contrast, independent media outlets lost only 14 cases in total, either in whole or in part – Átlátszó lost 3 in part.
At the beginning of 2020, we requested 2019 data for the pro-government Ripost, Lokál, Pesti Srácok, the then again Fidesz-affiliated Magyar Nemzet, public media, Origo, 888, TV2, and HírTV, as well as for the independent Index, RTL Klub, 444 and Átlátszó.
A table obtained from the Metropolitan Court howed that pro-government media outlets lost a total of 73 cases, in whole or in part, in 2019. Origo lost the most (25 lawsuits), Pesti Srácok the second most (12 lawsuits). Independent media lost only 4 – of which Átlátszó and RTL lost none, and Index and 444 lost 2-2.
57 lost cases in 2020 and 54 in 2021
Last year, we also asked the Budapest Metropolitan Court in a public data request how many lawsuits for correction were filed against Ripost, Lokál, Magyar Nemzet, Pesti Srácok, public service media, Origo, 888, TV2 and HírTV, and how many such lawsuits these editorial offices lost in the previous year, i.e. in 2020. According to data received from the court, a total of 57 awsuits were lost by media outlets close to the government. For comparison, we also asked for the data of non-government press products: 444, RTL Klub, Index, 24.hu, HVG, and Átlátszó lost a total of 7 cases, either in whole or in part.
Following the tradition, we requested the data for the previous year from the Metropolitan Court of Budapest at the beginning of this year , which shows that pro-government media lost ten times as many lawsuits as independent papers in 2021.
We have requested data on the 2021 lawsuits for correction from the Metropolitan Court of Budapest in a public interest data request. According to the numbers, the largest pro-government media outlets lost 54 cases last year – Magyar Nemzet was the record holder with 20, Origo was second with 13.
Fidesz media lost nearly 400 lawsuits in 5 years
The figures for previous years add up to very high numbers, especially concerning pro-government media outlets. Between the beginning of 2017 and the end of 2021, 10 pro-government press products were the subject of a total of 700 lawsuits for correction, of which they lost 382: 282 fully, and 100 partially.
By contrast, 8 independent newspapers lost only 40 of the 260 cases filed against them: 20 fully and 20 partially.
As the political environment and media market synergies have changed,we have had to make some changes to the list of media outlets we ask for in our data requests each year. In 2017, for example, Magyar Nemzet was not a pro-government newspaper, then it became one again. The same happened with Index. Magyar Idők ceased to exist at some point, and Telex was founded in 2020.
The absolute record-breaker is Origo: in 5 years it was sued 172 times for misinformation, of which 103 cases were lost in whole or in part. That means that they lost almost two thirds of the total lawsuits for correction filed against them.
In the past 5 years, 34 cases have been filed against Átlátszó, of which we lost 4 fully and 3 partially.
When the data of all the press products examined are combined, it can be seen that independent media have lost a total of 40 lawsuits for correction in the last 5 years (20 in part, 20 in full), while the largest pro-Fidesz media products have lost nearly 400, or ten times as many.
Translated by Zita Szopkó. The original, more detailed Hungarian version of this article was written by Katalin Erdélyi and can be found here. Data visualisations: Krisztián Szabó.