In 2017 the Hungarian government assigned more than 65 billion forints (210 million euros) to advertising companies, tripling the budget planned four years ago. With elections coming up this spring, a strong and prolonged anti-George Soros campaign and the FINA World Swimming Championship (held in Budapest), 2017 was the most expensive year ever for Hungarian government spending on advertising.
During prime minister Viktor Orbán’s previous term in office, government spending on advertising totalled 260 million euros over a four-year period. The left-wing government of 2006-10 spent slightly more.
The anti-Soros campaign alone cost 100 million euros.
According to the Hungarian press, the largest beneficiaries of government spending on advertising were the same three companies, all owned by people close to the government: Gyula Balásy, a favourite of the executive for some time; Tibor Kuna, a friend of Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó and Csaba Csetényi, a neighbour of the head of the Cabinet Office Antal Rogán.
The figures will cause concern to those who monitor press freedom in Hungary.
In its latest report on Hungary, the media watchdog Freedom House claimed that outlets loyal to Fidesz (Mr Orban’s party), dominate the market: “The public broadcaster clearly favours Fidesz and its policy goals, and has increasingly been used to discredit the party’s political opponents. The government also seeks to control the media through the selective awarding of advertising contracts and radio broadcasting frequencies.”