Maybe It’s All Fake — Television in Hungary

25Aug11

In this crazy and hot summer no surprise something has happened in the Hungarian media. After the second round of one accusing the other of lying it turns out a television reporter had made up her story. The false investigative report generated anger among wise consumers of fast moving commercial television goods, among media analysts and maybe among broadcast media workers as well. The one and only working watchdog of the Hungarian media the National Media and Infocommunications Authority also commented the case.

An investigative report about corn thiefs

TV2 a Hungarian commercial television channel has a show with reports of a more serious tone. The show Napló (Diary) often broadcasts materials dealing with investigative cases. The report of Gabriella Barczai about corn thieves in a small town in northern Hungary was broadcasted on July 31. The presenter Tvrtko Vujity (also an investigative journalist for television) rolled out the story by saying the guard of a corn field wanted them to show how corn thieves operate. Of course, he said, it’s not guaranteed that they go there and can record that golden minute when the crime happens.

In the video it seems like Gabriella Barczai was in the right place at the right time. TV2 was the very lucky one showing their audience that their journalists go and get the story no matter where and how. The reporter talked with the thieves in front of the camera about why they stole ears of corn and for how much they usually sell them.

The case caught the attention of the local police who investigated it and surprise surprise it turned out the three men appearing in the report as thieves were paid for playing the ‘role’. The show broadcasted another report the following Sunday in which the guard Zoltán Terjék acknowledged he paid the three men so the TV could show how he worked. The innocent reporter tried the guard, asked him why he set up the scene and added that the television would have shown those materials as illustrating cutaways if she had known beforehand what it was all about.

Before the image of the misled television stuck in our mind, reality (?) checked in. The guard of the corn field was fired for being a liar which was of course very bad for him. So he stood up and said wait, it was the TV staff who paid those guys. The news site HVG.hu also talked to the guard who said he wanted to do a favor for the television staff.

TV2 mentioned inside investigations in their statements. The results are not known. Maybe Gabriella Barczai set up the scene but I guess there were other members in that ‘staff’ who saw what was happening and still in the first round TV2 was trying to defend their position. They fired the reporter subsequently to the firing of the guard. Supposedly, they were afraid of the police investigations revealing more information about the recording of the scene, or the ‘actors’ starting to tell in public what happened exactly. Do you think Gabriella Barczai was the only liar in this story?

When I read about the case the film the Network (1976) came to my mind: “The only truth is what you get over this tube… Listen to me. Television is not the truth. Television is a goddamn amusement park… You people are the real thing, we are the illusion.”

The Hungarian media authority’s blog post about the false report implied the same thing ending with these words:

Nevertheless, let’s watch and listen to news programs and read dailies perceptively, meanwhile let’s always think about this: it’s not certain that all is corn thief which looks like that on television.

My problem (as a journalist) with this is that even if the media authority said this, this is not true. Or they shouldn’t talk like this. I always believed in media trying to do their best to present the truth. It’s true that the demonstration of the truth is not the truth itself but we should do our best to get close to that. Each media has their tools to do that in a fair and correct manner. No-one ever should imply that Hungarian media lie to their audiences! Should you be always dubious when you open the newspaper? So why does media exist if it’s not telling people the truth at all? It’s rather the leadership of those medias that know about themselves they are not even getting close to the truth should look into their system and find out if they have any problem concerning their code of ethics.

Thanks to HVG.hu news site which called attention to this story and didn’t let it fade away.

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