Hungarians demand end to pro-government bias in public media

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Around 1,000 demonstrators gathered at the headquarters of Hungary's public media company Friday to protest what they say is biased news coverage and state-sponsored propaganda that favors the country's populist government.

Demonstrators called for the replacement of the director of public media corporation MTVA and for due coverage of a recent wave of major protests and strikes by Hungarian teachers and students. The actions demanding better pay and working conditions for educators are largely ignored by the public media despite some protests drawing tens of thousands of people.

The protest Friday, dubbed a “blockade of the factory of lies," was called by independent opposition lawmaker Akos Hadhazy, a former member of the ruling Fidesz party who is known as an anti-corruption crusader.

In a Facebook event for the demonstration, Hadhazy described the event as “the first real, decisive step to take back the party-state media for the public good, to sack the news-fabricating director of MTVA and to ban paid propaganda by law.”

Hungary's government, under the leadership of nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban since 2010, has frequently been accused of eroding press freedom and rolling back democratic checks and balances in the country.

International media watchdog Reporters Without Borders added Orban to its list of “press freedom predators” last year. He has pointed to the existence of several online news outlets and commercial television stations that are critical of his government as proof that the media in Hungary are “freer and more diverse” than in Western Europe.

In September, the European Union's legislature declared that Hungary had become “a hybrid regime of electoral autocracy” under Orban's leadership, and that its undermining of the bloc’s democratic values had taken Hungary out of the community of democracies.

Justin Spike, The Associated Press