One-sidedness and methodological pitfalls in international reports on media freedom in Hungary

Published: 24 November 2023

Factual errors, methodological inconsistencies and one-sidedness can also be found in reports published by several international organisations analysing press freedom and media situation in Hungary, according to a study by the National Media and Infocommunications Authority (NMHH).

The NMHH welcomes any initiative to assess the situation of media freedom. However, it is also important to draw attention to any professional and methodological concerns that may arise in relation to such reports and rankings. According to the Authority's study, factual errors, methodological inconsistencies and one-sidedness can also be found in reports published by several international organisations analysing the situation of the media in Hungary. A review of several reports published since 2011 shows that the rankings often used questionable methodology, many times only a few experts were consulted, resulting in poorly substantiated justification, in many cases silencing positive effects.

Some examples of problems encountered

Several of the reports contain literally the same textual explanations, even though they cover different years. For example, the EU-backed Media Pluralism Monitor reports almost the same textual explanation for the high risk rating of 75% for the 2017 indicator on media access for minorities as in 2016, when a 25% risk was identified.

In some cases, the explanations do not even assess events that occurred during the examined period. For example, the 2021 Media Pluralism Monitor report calls to account for the implementation of an EU regulation adopted in 2022. And the Freedom of the Press report of Freedom House in 2011 predicted beforehand that the National Authority for Data Protection and Freedom of Information not even established in those days would restrict freedom of information.

The balance or appropriate diversity of authors and expert groups involved in the preparation of the reports is also questionable. The persons writing the reports and doing the scoring of the Media Pluralism Monitor were on several occasions limited to the staff members of a single university department or editorial office, while independent experts were not given any meaningful influence on the evaluation. Similar examples are the Freedom House reports on internet freedom, in which Hungary has been scored and textually evaluated by a single staff member of the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (TASZ, Társaság a Szabadságjogokért), an NGO known for its markedly biased criticism of the domestic situation over the past two years. Reporters Without Borders does not even provide information about the authors of the reports.

The sources supporting the reports are also one-sided: the reports do not seem to make any effort to examine carefully from multiple perspectives. A further professional deficiency is that, for example, Freedom House's Freedom in the World reports for 2015–2020 referred to as the only Hungarian source, and the Internet Freedom Report drew conclusions about the extent of political influence in the overall online media market on the basis of a study of the revenues of just a few market-leading media outlets.

In the study available on the NMHH website, further examples are provided in connection with the reports on Hungary by Freedom House, Reporters Without Borders, Media Pluralism Monitor, UNESCO and others. NMHH hopes that its constructive criticism will contribute to produce professionally more informed and more balanced reports on Hungarian media situation in the future that are closer to reality.