16.6 billion HUF of public money spent at pro-government media as public service advertising in 2022
It took five months for the Prime Minister’s Cabinet Office, led by Antal Rogán, to show us how much was spent on public service advertisement campaigns in 2022, and where these ads were published. Most of the taxpayer’s billions went to the pro-government media: out of the HUF 19.6 billion (cca 50 million USD) spent on what the government calls public service announcements, 16.6 billion HUF (cca 42 million USD) was spent at media outlets closely aligned with the governing party.
When it comes to delivering government messages, the Cabinet Office is talkative, but when it comes to who is benefiting from it, less so. This may be why it took months for us to find out who profited from the ubiquitous “Made on behalf of the government of Hungary!” sign in 2022.
We first sent an FOI request on the „public service” advertisement campaigns to the Prime Minister’s Cabinet Office in October. They responded saying that “we do not keep the data in the breakdown requested.” Then, following another FOI request, it took them 45 days to send us a list of campaigns, so we received the data by 19 December. We had to submit another FOI request for the actual spending, and then the reply came: they won’t send us the spreadsheets, but we could look at them in person.
We could not use the phone or camera in the ministry building, we could only take notes.
The campaigns are stored in 13 folders, and we collected data from there. We looked at the media plans, which show how many ads each media outlet placed and where.
A net amount of HUF 3.8 billion was spent on the 2022 referendum, which was called child protection referendum. Of this, HUF 100 million was advertised in Blikk, HUF 32 million in Axel-Springer, HUF 21 million in Demokrata, and HUF 71 million in other newspapers. The vast majority of the net HUF 2.1 billion in print spending went to Central European Press and Media Foundation (a Hungarian foundation close to the government, controlling many of the country’s media outlets) member Mediaworks.
We have not calculated the exact amount spent by pro-government media outlets, as it was easier to add up the non-government spending, but the order of magnitude is still correct.
According to our totals, the Prime Minister’s Cabinet Office spent HUF 19.6 billion on what they call public service announcements in 2022.
Of the advertising linked to political campaigns, HUF 16.6 billion went to pro-government media.
This amount includes a 15% commission from the intermediary company. Newspapers mostly gave a 30-45 percent discount on the list price, while for TV this rose to 75 percent.
In several cases, the campaign called „Let’s keep Hungary safe” was published on borsonline.hu, ran with a click-through rate of 0%, or CTR. What does this mean? According to Google, a high CTR means that users find the ad useful and relevant. This is not the case for government ads, according to the measurements. But at least the majority of public money has gone to government media.
Translated by Zita Szopkó. The original Hungarian version of this article was written by Csaba Segesvári and can be found here. Data visualisation: Krisztián Szabó.