7. mass media and mass communications in hungary


7.1. mass media conditions

In an ideal situation, everything that is published in mass media is important and of public interest, and also the other way round: everything that is important and of public interest is published. This, however, is not always true in this way. We can speak of democratic publicity only if there is free access to its public forums, and people representing various viewpoints may equally express their opinions in mass media. Furthermore, citizens may obtain information from various sources. For this reason, pluralism of media, its independence of power and impartiality are essential.

Since the political transformation in Hungary (1989), the press has been commercialised and the majority of the press is currently in private hands. (The major national newspapers are today foreign-owned enterprises.)

The operation of radio and television has been changed fundamentally. During the socialist era, both were state-owned monopolies, influence significantly by the government. When the political system transformed, it was officially declared that the radio and television should be independent politically, however, political parties could not agree on the structure of a democratic, independent and impartial media, nor how to operate and finance the two institutions. The so-called ‘media war’ went on for several years. Therefore, for years after the political changes, the operation of the electronic media remained uncontrolled.


7.2. freedom of the press, media legislation, advertisements

The basic principles of the freedom of the press, i.e. the freedom and independence of information, are determined by the constitution. The limits of the freedom of the press are contained in a separate press law (Act II., 1986). The Hungarian press laws - similarly to those in any democratic state in Europe, regulate three issues; licensing, responsibility and rectification. According to the Hungarian legislation, printed matters may be published only if licensed by the state, and by following the rules of procedure. The author, the publisher and the editor are jointly liable. The law of rectification concerns the regulations which make it possible for those interested to discuss the statements of printed matters, and to publish a correction of false information violating other peoples’ interests.

The bill on media legislation was passed by the Parliament at the end of 1995. A compromise was made in the controversial issues. A most important novelty of the legislation was that in electronic media, it enabled the establishment of a dual media market, i.e. commercial channels emerged alongside the state owned public channels. The media legislation abolished direct state control; however, political parties still had a wide range of opportunities in controlling that field. Media legislation transferred the concepts and the logic of party politics to the media in the spirit of mutual distrust between the political powers. Consequently, a hardly transparent system of media control was established, which was dominated by political parties.

Based on media legislation, the Board of National Radio and Television (ORTT) was set up, the members of which are elected by the Parliament for a four year term. The minimum number of the members of the board is five persons. Its president is nominated jointly by the President and the Prime Minister of Hungary.

By media legislation, certain public media (MTV, MR, Duna Televízió) operate as public foundations supervised by boards of trustees. Some of the members of these boards are elected proportionately by the parties in Parliament for four years (16 persons), and the majority are selected for one year from among the members of social organisations by drawing lots (42 persons). Consequently, the political and the public factors both present themselves in the boards of trustees. Support of two-thirds of the members is needed for major decisions.

They do not have a direct say in making programs, which is the task of editors and journalists. Boards of trustees are entitled to evaluate - but only subsequently, how the programmes are balanced politically. Should they find it incorrect, they may make proposals for changes of persons and programmes.

The basic principles of advertising are stipulated by the constitution. Its detailed regulations are contained in the Act on Advertising (Act LVIII., 1997) with amendments concerning fair competition and information of consumers. The private individual or enterprise placing the advertisement should be identifiable. The Act contains detailed restrictions and bans on advertising, as well as the rules of liability. The advertiser, the service provider and the publisher of the advertisement are jointly held responsible for the damage caused by violating the regulations.

Pick salami from the homepage of the factory and Herend porcelain from a catalogue


7.3. major press organs and electronic media

After the political transformation ‘Népszabadság’ (the official paper of the former Hungarian Social Labour Party before the political changes) was the most popular political newspaper. It was passed into the ownership of the German Bertelsman company, which later sold the majority of its shares to the Ringier Group in Switzerland. ‘Népszabadság’ had an extremely high circulation in 1989, and despite the fact that it had dropped to half by 2002, it still remained the largest political daily paper. This national daily paper represents left-wing views.

Népszava’ ,the former organ of the Hungarian trade unions had changed into a political daily paper with the lowest circulation by 2002. It also represents left-wing political views.

‘Magyar Hírlap’, the semi-official paper of the government before 1990, was passed into foreign ownership even before the political transformation. Between 1989 and 2002, the number of its readers decreased by more than half. This public daily paper is basically of liberal orientation.

Magyar Nemzet’, the organ of ‘Hazafias Népfront’ (National Front of Patriots), which served as a substitute for the non-existant multi-party system before the political transformation, passed into French proprietorship in the autumn of 1990. In April 2000, ‘Magyar Nemzet’ became united with the more radical ‘Napi Magyarország’ (which was in Hungarian proprietorship) taking over most of its employees. Later ‘Magyar Nemzet’ became definitely government oriented and following the general elections held in 2002, it represented the views of the opposition and, concerning its circulation of over 100,000 for several months, has become the second largest daily paper in the media market. As a daily paper for citizens, it represents right-wing political views.

Two economic organs are worth mentioning in the market of daily papers; ‘Napi Gazdaság’ and ‘Világgazdaság’. At the end of 2002 both dailies were owned by the Axel Springer Group (Juhász 2002, 199).

Obviously, sensational papers have the largest circulation in Hungary as well as in other countries in Europe. The circulation of ‘Blikk’, for example, is higher than that of the two largest daily quality papers – ‘Népszabadság’ with left-wing, ‘Magyar Nemzet’ with right-wing political views – put together. Its daily circulation is constantly over 300,000.

Table 1: The circulation of national daily papers

The circulation of national daily papers * (thousand copies)





















Magyar Hírlap







Magyar Nemzet







Since most foreign investors’ attention was mainly drawn to the daily papers, the majority of weekly papers remained basically in Hungarian proprietorship. In the market of quality weekly papers ‘Heti Világgazdaság’ takes the lead by constantly preserving its circulation of over 100,000. Its competitors (‘Magyar Narancs’, ‘168óra’, ‘Magyar Demokrata’, ‘Figyelő’, ‘Élet és Irodalom’ etc.) have much more adverse financial conditions. The Orbán right-wing government between 1998 and 2002 made efforts to facilitate the publishing of a quality weekly paper financed from the state budget and it was followed by considerable political protests. ‘Heti Válasz’, a weekly paper was published under these circumstances, the financial support of which was not done away with by the subsequent left-wing Medgyessy government, however, it was significantly decreased.

Table 2: Access to the types of media among the entire population in 2002

Watches billboards

Uses the Internet

Reads magazines

Reads daily papers

Listens to the radio

Watches television

In the market of television channels public state television used to have a monopoly until 1997. By the support of the Antall government (1990–1993), an organ aiming at access mostly to Hungarian people living beyond the borders of Hungary, was launched at the end of 1992. The significance in internal politics of the satellite broadcasting ‘Duna Televízió’ was far from that of ‘MTV’. As mentioned above, media legislation created dual media. in 1997 the ORTT invited applications for the concession of two ground-based broadcasting channels valid for ten years. On the basis of the decision made by the ORTT, two commercial channels were launched in October 1997: ‘TV2’ and ‘RTL Klub’. The two commercial channels soon outnumbered the public state channel in terms of viewers, depriving it of its leading role in the market and a considerable amount of revenues raised by TV-commercials. Later several commercial and other channels were established. By the establishment of the dual media system the stake of fights for political control over the public state channel considerably decreased. The influence of television channels did not decrease at all in the 1990s and the number of hours spent watching TV continuously increased in Hungary.

Similarly to all other European countries, listening to the radio has been pushed into the background. Privatisation has also been carried out in the radio as well. The number of public state radio stations has dropped to three (‘Kossuth’, ‘Petõfi’ and ‘Bartók’) and that of commercial stations is almost countless. A lot of regional programmes have also come to life.

youth and students’ press

Since the political transformation this field has also become very complex. The papers published formerly were supervised, controlled and owned by the state. After 1990 some former papers were owned by private enterprises, new papers were established and a lot of foreign products have been published in Hungary since that time.

The printed matter aimed at the youth are not free of politics either, because the major parties have created their publication for young people as well. Naturally, the youth read papers according to their interests. Lovers of action sports - skateboard, inline skate, base jumping, BMX – read, for example, the magazine entitled ‘Offline’, music lovers prefer ‘Ifjúsági Magazin’, or, like anywhere in Europe, ‘Bravo’, but Cosmo-girls reading ‘Cosmoplitain’ are also present in Hungary just like the ‘CKM’ reading boys. In addition to that, there are various printed matters for young people of different age groups starting from those in the kindergartens (‘Dörmögõ Dömötör’) to university students.

Local councils in educational institutions also publish their own papers and almost every institution has a radio studio operated by the students.

genres of the press

The most important genres of the press/media are as follows: news, reports, interviews, notes, reviews, commentaries and editorials.

A basic genre in journalism is the news. The first newspapers wrote about the news. The value of the news depends on their topicality, importance and the level of public interest. In the beginning there were only news (accounts of events that had taken place), then the predictions about the future also appeared. In the current media we also have news of the events taking place at the moment (e.g. TV news, radio news and SMS-sent news).

The report is related to the news, however, it is more extensive and also shows a personal involvement of the journalist.

It may sound a bit of an exaggeration to say that the report is the queen of journalism. There are actions and events in the report just like in a drama. Mixing up the interview with the report shows superficial experience of the fact that genres are interlocked. In both genres there may be dialogue (questions and answers), however, not necessary so. The questions of the reporter may be omitted from a report or an interview. The real difference is that it is action that dominates questions and answers in interviews.

Commentaries are outspoken, incisive short texts aimed at a point. Irony, sarcasm, magnification, exaggeration and enhancement are typical stylistic elements of this genre.

Notes are usually used for expressing a range of ideas.

The stages of criticism are as follows: 1. description, 2. review, 3. criticism, 4. study, and 5. essay.

The essay is a genuine genre of journalism. The original meaning of the word is ‘attempt’. It is a lyrical, contemplating and personal kind of literary piece of work. It is partly related to the notes but it is more engrossed, scholarly and literary in its nature.


7. 4. telephoning and using mobile phones

The habits concerning the use of the telephone are similar to those elsewhere in Europe, however, there are some differences as well.

It is always the caller who greets the partner, introduces him/herself and says who he/she would like to talk to. The person answering the call identifies him/herself, gives his/her name or in the case of being called at work, gives the name of the institution. It is always the caller who finishes the conversation. It is customary to ask the person called if he/she has the time for the conversation and if not, when to call again. It is not the proper thing to chat on the phone for a long time. Such lengthy conversations are preferably done in person. Each member of the family should be provided enough time to use the phone at home. Do not forget to pass on telephone messages received for others. When using the answering machine, the name and phone number should be clearly said.

In three-fourths of Hungarian homes there are also mobile phone. The number of cell phones considerably increased with almost each age group during the last year. There are an increasing number of families where every member of the family has a mobile phone. Therefore it is the correct thing to get each other’s numbers and to call each person on his/her own phone. (Some households are not on the phone any longer.) The mobile phone is of more personal nature and its use is different. Even if we do not know the caller, we must identify ourselves and naturally, the caller also must introduce him/herself. It is often unnecessary, however, since the handset displays the names of our acquaintances or friends at the very beginning of the call. We always have our mobile phones on us but it cannot always be used. At the theatre, cinema or in the classroom it should be switched off. In certain cases, for example, on board the plane or in hospitals it is forbidden to make phone calls. It is also very offensive if during a special family dinner a handset keeps ringing and the person called answers the call all the time.

The phone is also used when one cannot arrive somewhere on time, one should make a call, apologise and change the time of the appointment.

If we send an SMS, the text should be clearly worded and must be signed. Such messages may be sent to anyone at any time.

7. 5.the role of the computer and the internet

Modern computers open up new options in communication since not only signs but also picture and sound can be passed on by the computer. Connecting computers can put an end to the typical one-sidedness of mass media since the exchange of information may be bilateral and multilateral as well. The Internet is a communication system based on such connections between computers. According to the findings of recent research, considerable social groups need the Internet and are ready to use it widely. In spite of that, Hungary is at the bottom of the list in terms of Internet use among the EU states concerning the rate of users both by the population and the entrepreneurial sector. However, there has been a continuous and promising growth in this field recently.

Homepage of ‘Sulinet’ (Internet for school)


The use of personal computers is most widespread and increasing among young people. 39% of the population over 15 years of age (almost 3.4 million people) use personal computers. This shows a 4% growth rate in 2005 as compared to that of last year. In the age group of under 24, the use of PCs is most widespread (85%) and the rate of growth is the largest (10%) there. It is a good thing that among people of 25-34, and 35-44 years of age the rate of PC users has increased to over 50%, however, only 4% of those over 60 use personal computers. Both the young and the elderly generation have obtained the skills needed for the use of computers and the Internet mostly at school or by attending special courses.

The findings of a survey carried out in May 2005 showed that 18% of the total 3.9 million households in Hungary, (680,000) have Internet access via personal computers. It is 48% of 1.4 million households equipped by personal computers, respectively there is Internet access available via every second PC in the households. There is Internet access in about one-third of homes in Budapest, which is approximately double of the national average or 36% of all the households with Internet access. The rate of growth has been the largest in this area. In the rural regions – with the exception of the central Pest county -, the degree of Internet supply is below average. While in northwest and southwest Hungary the rate of 16% is close to the national average, it is 13% in the north-eastern and only 8% in the south-eastern regions of the country. The survey carried out by the types of settlement shows that the significant backlog in villages has not decreased recently.

Apart from the geographic location, researchers have examined household Internet use based according to many other factors as well. According to their findings, the best supply is characteristic of households of 4 people (33%), and it is also above average in households of 3 to 5. It is also significantly higher in homes where the head of the family is a man of 35-59 of age and has at least a certificate of secondary education. Besides the above mentioned, where there are children in the families, the degree of Internet connectivity is about 27%, whereas in households without children this rate is less than half of that.

Concerning computers, the quality and the equipment have also changed considerably. From among 1.4 million computers in households, almost 900,000 are equipped with printers. From among other equipment, the pen-drive has taken the lead by 2005, which portable device can be found in nearly one third of households with computers. Page readers have also become considerably widespread; scanners are used for computers in every fourth or fifth household. In the field of taking photos, the domestic market for the population is characterised by a rapidly growing number of digital devices. 15% of all households are equipped with digital cameras, amounting to a total of 600,000 items. Printing digital photos is also becoming more and more common. In 2005 more than half of those concerned (57%) made paper photos of digitally taken photographs, and nearly two-thirds of them produced these photos in their own homes with their own printers. Among video cameras, the traditional units are still a bit more popular; however, according to purchasing plans, the digital devices will take the lead in this field as well in the near future. Besides cameras, mp3 players were most popular last year. In 2005 about 13% of homes were equipped with this device, mostly households with large consumption rates, with at least 3 young and middle-aged people and with children as well.

Nearly two-thirds of the companies in Hungary had access to the Internet in 2005 and small enterprises are rapidly developing in this field. From among different technologies ADSL has recently taken the lead. On the one hand, companies change their existing lower band-width connections for more robust ones providing connections of larger bandwidth. Also, when new contracts are signed, faster connection are chosen.


advantages and disadvantages of computers and the internet, new enemies to mass media

The acceptance and judgement of the computer and the Internet are characteristically positive in Hungary. According to some two-thirds of opinions, the computer makes one’s life considerably easier. Only about 7% of those questioned answered otherwise. The rates are similar in the case of the Internet as well; half of those who answered the question mostly or entirely agree that people using the Internet have more advantages in a lot of fields of life than those who do not, and only 9% are against this view. Those who use their PCs at home are most often motivated to obtain Internet access to obtain topical daily news, distance learning and to research anticipated purchases. Online participation in public matters and e-shopping seem to be the least attractive options.

There is access to the Internet in every Hungarian school at present and used by both the teachers and the students. For this reason, it has an enormous role in education and alongside with it, in obtaining information because this process is made unbelievably easier by the Internet. Establishing electronic libraries in Hungary is going on at a rapid pace. Digitalisation of the book stock has partly been carried out and it is possible to get access to almost any foreign language material. Obtaining information has become much easier.

PC-classroom in a school

The new options in information community have brought about a mixture of personal and mass media communication. The traditional means of mass media (newspapers, radio television) modified by the means of information technology are united in a media format of new quality. This is called new media, which is a means of mass media of the future. The relations with the computer and the new media are more and more determined by interactivity. Interactivity is an action during which the user influences and forms the progress of communication by means of his/her decisions.

Globalisation has been enhanced, since the end of the 20 th century, by the revolution in informatics. It has some linguistic consequences as well; among other things, English has become a general intermediary language.

Obviously, mass media affect the language and usage in many ways. Mass media use one official, acknowledged and central standard language. Radio and television in Hungary use a cultured standard language. Public state radio stations and television channels in the country endeavour to use a standard language which can be considered as a sample. The same is not true for commercial channels.

According to mass media researchers, mass communications are entirely transformed by information technology. The computer has brought about a lot of new linguistic effects. In the beginning only the large number of foreign words was conspicuous (software, printer), then the influence of word processing on the texts (looser structure, taking over texts and parts of texts) and later on, the phenomenon that anyone can become a ‘publisher’ due to the new technology. Communication on the Internet has created new linguistic forms and modes of existence and it changes mass media fundamentally. In the beginning the on-line versions of newspapers were created, then online papers (continuous newspapers), news websites, radio, television and web camera services came to life on the Internet.

Mass media have various connections with culture and language. As a matter of fact, it is the most important means of education and culture. Both the radio and the television have their own cultural products (e.g. documentaries, radio or TV plays). These media play an enormous role in broadcasting and preserving culture.

Tabloids and commercial media do not care too much for quality requirements or a cultural mission. Their most important viewpoint is mass effect; to obtain the largest possible number of listeners or viewers. Therefore they use strident, high-sounding and sensational means to satisfy the needs of mass audiences (media texts starting with a forceful upbeat, they use scandalous topics, aggression in terms of sound, motion and language, negative attributes and slang).

Public state radio and television should fulfil the task of maintaining national values useful for smaller communities as well and also high standards in usage, however, they do not always succeed in the struggle to obtain more listeners and viewers.