Hungary's Olympic spirit turns sour

Hungary's Olympic spirit turns sour
By Rita Palfi
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The Olympic Games are supposed to be apolitical but in Hungary the television coverage appears to ignore that rule, and the commercial breaks have been turned into a referendum campaign against…


The Olympic Games are supposed to be apolitical but in Hungary the television coverage appears to ignore that rule, and the commercial breaks have been turned into a referendum campaign against migrants.

The Summer Olympic Games have a special place in the hearts of Hungarians, as the country is the second most successful country of all time in gold medals per capita, (the first is Finland). Hungary is currently in eighth place on the all-time list, meaning that Hungarians usually have a good reason to watch the coverage for hours.

Talking to a bigger public

Although public television’s ratings were higher during the Euro 2016 football championship, especially while the Hungarian national team was playing, it has no reason to complain during the Rio Summer Olympics either. When there are Hungarians to cheer for the reach of the station goes up to between 500,000 to 600,000. On some days M4 was the most-viewed channel of the day, (captivating around 20 percent of the population), a result that public television can only achieve with sport.

The record was the Hungary-Belgium game this summer with 2,796,244 viewers, or around 61.5 percent of Hungarians watching television at that time.

A not so Olympian campaign

The games can be followed on public television’s sports channel, (M4), which injects political messages throughout the entire coverage. Between the sports events one-minute news updates appear, something undoubtedly unusual for a sports channel. And the choice of the news is controversial: the subjects are mainly about terrorism, migrants, the successes of the Hungarian government, and sometimes about natural disasters. Strange bedfellows for what is supposedly international entertainment for the whole family.

Also since the beginning of the Games the channel is broadcasting so-called public service announcements from the Hungarian government about the upcoming referendum on whether or not to accept EU migrant quotas.

The “did you know?” messages are presented as facts, but they do not tell the whole truth, and are not exact enough to be presented as facts. For example, “Brussels wants to settle the equivalent of a ‘city’ of illegal migrants in Hungary”, (when in reality it is about 1,294 refugees) or “the Paris attacks were committed by migrants”.

You can read more about the campaign here.

Hungarians will vote on October 2 to approve or reject taking a quota of refugees which the EU is trying to get all member states to approve. The official campaign started only last weekend, but the Hungarian government should be confident about the outcome as their campaign is already up and running under the guise of “government information campaign” about the referendum. However, the message couldn’t be more clear, as is the referendum’s title “against forced settling”.

Over the first nine days of the Olympic Games between 5 and 13 August M4 aired these messages 211 times, (this means 4219 seconds: more than 70 minutes), on the sport channel according to Kreatív Online. The government bought 20 percent of all M4’s advertisement slots in this period.

A heat without winner

In one of the Women’s Butterfly 100 metres heats Yusra Mardini, the 18-year-old Syrian refugee was competing. She is part of the IOC’s Olympic Refugee Athletes team. The girl, who one year ago swam for her life in the Mediterranean, (and rescued others), won her heat, but she did not make it to the final.

Her name and her story were not told to the Hungarian public, as the commentator forgot to mention her, despite the fact that she was the winner of the heat. He did not even name her, despite her story being one of the most beautiful examples of what the Olympic spirit is all about, and truly inspirational.

The commentator claimed himself later in a statement issued by his station that he had technical problems, and he knew that the heat “would be one with less-known competitors”. No one knows whether or not he did it on purpose, as no one can tell which scenario is worse.

The same reporter has received a lot of criticism during these Olympic games. For example he celebrated two womens’ kayak gold medals by saying it was a “man’s job”. Seven of the eight Hungarian gold medals have been won by women.

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