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Majtenyi and Miklosi, the ombudsmen responsible for upholding the independence of Magyar Hirlap, are leaving the paper. The move may be the result of the owner's anger at a ruling they issued, which has been published in the literary weekly Elet es Irodalom.

Gabor Szeles is well on the way to building up his media empire to take up all the available space. Via his holdings in the companies Videoton, Ikarus, Muszertechnika and his role in the Hungarian Manufacturers' National Alliance, Szeles has a chance of inscribing his name in the list of legendary figures in Hungarian industry. But his purchase of a daily paper has brought him onto slippery terrain, as he sacrifices profits for prestige.

The departure of the Magyar Hirlap's in-house ombudsman, which sources at the paper claim was the result of pressure from Szeles, proves that this member of the rich man's club does not understand that a newsroom cannot be run like a factory. For those who do not know the story, which is a fairly banal one in our postsocialist region, before Szeles arrived on the scene, the Magyar Hirlap asked Laszlo Majtenyi, the former data protection commissioner, and Zoltan MIklosi, an impartial freedom of information expert, to examine whether the paper's copy met its claimed criteria of independence.

These two guard dogs were unfazed by the change in ownership. They wrote that the paper's reporting of Szeles's activiities in the National Interest Reconciliation Council was overly accommodating towards its owner. The paper had failed to mention that Szeles was the paper's owner, they wrote. But the paper, which had been so enthusiastic about the ombudsman system before, was for some reason reluctant to publish the ombudsmen's report. It finally saw the light of day in ES, revealing to the world that Majtenyi and Miklosi were on the way out.

Of course, our hero the factory owner did not officially request the removal of the two nosey parkers. Of course not! But he must surely have wondered on occasion why he should not have written whatever he wanted in his "own" paper, why he should pay it to bite the hand that fed it. There is no doubt that was the way worked where he came from.

On a large industrial site, it is entirely right that everything should happen in the way the owner, the investor or the majority shareholder wants it done. If he wants the production line to spit out blue lorries instead of yellow buses, then let it happen thus. But in the media, the situation is different, as professional media investors know. But for Szeles, this is new territory.

A production line worker, technician or foreman does not see the decision to switch from buses to lorries as an infringement of his rights. But for a journalist, it violates his self-respect if he is placed under informal pressure to write something he or she does not think. As a colleague, I was sad to read Magyar Hirlap's attempt to wash its hands of the affair.

There are just two morally acceptable options: either I run an objective, unbiased newspaper, I let it work with its ombudsmen, and I do not force it to play the obsequious courtier. Or I announce below the paper's masthead that the newspaper the reader holds in his hands is the official paper of the Hungarian Manufacturers' National Alliance or of the Szeles corporate empire. This makes it clear that the newspaper will only print information that serves the owner's interests. There is one thing that cannot be done without suffering the consequences: demanding the respect afforded an independent organ while secretly acting as a spokesperson. It would be welcome if the directors of the Magyar Hirlap, who boast daily of their professional detachment to Echo TV, would acknowledge this fact.

But we know that a fight for survival concentrates minds, and that journalists are often short of money. We also recognise that there is no shortage of newspaper writers. Every week, a hundred new talented (or less talented) cub reporters come knocking on the door: anyone can easily be replaced. Furthermore, many of those who formally belong to the profession are less media workers than entertainment industry employees, party propagandists sequestered in the newsroom, even advertising copywriters. But it is good if everyone knows `that honour has its price. It is up to the individual to decide how much he or she is prepared to pay for it.

hvg.hu English version

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