Hungarians increasingly distrust mainstream media

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The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism has released this yearʼs edition of its Digital News Report. With the majority of mainstream broadcast and print media outlets influenced by government agendas, digital news sources have become increasingly important in Hungary, the report says.

This yearʼs Digital News Report is based on a survey of over 74,000 online news consumers in 37 countries including the U.S. and U.K. The report focuses on the issues of trust and misinformation, new online business models, the impact of changing Facebook algorithms, and the rise of new platforms and messaging apps.

On the global level, there are "signs of hope" for the news industry, the report says. Many media companies are shifting models towards higher-quality content and more emphasis on reader payment.

However, consumer trust in news remains worryingly low in most countries, often linked to high levels of media polarization, and the perception of undue political influence. Adding to the mix are high levels of concern about so-called "fake news," partly stoked by politicians, who in some countries are already using this as an opportunity to clamp down on media freedom, the Reuters Institute observes.

The report has a separate chapter on Hungary, which notes that the mainstream media have become increasingly controlled or shackled by forces close to the government, with a resultant growing reliance on online media.

"The Hungarian government reached a new level of control over the media last year through a series of acquisitions by supportive oligarchs, and by using the power of state advertising to starve critical outlets of funding," reads the report.

"With the majority of mainstream broadcast and print media outlets influenced by government agendas, digital media have become important as a space where freedom of expression is practiced and critical information can be found," it adds. "On the other hand, reliance on digital news, especially accessed through social media, intensifies the already high level of polarization."

In terms of weekly reach in TV and print, by far the most frequently accessed source of news is TV station RTL Klub (60%), with government-friendly rival TV2 (37%) in second place. The most significant change from the previous year is the decline of the government-controlled public service broadcaster, MTV, which has fallen from third to fifth place, with just 23% of Hungarian news consumers saying they accessed MTV news in the last week compared with 35% last year.

In terms of online news, index.hu (40%) remains ahead of origo.hu (38%), followed by 24.hu (34%). Both hirado.hu, the online portal of the public service broadcaster (-8) and atv.hu (-4) have experienced a significant drop in the percentage of Hungarians using their sites for news.

The Reuters Institute notes that in such a polarized environment as Hungary, trust in overall news is low (at 29%, 35th out of 37 countries).

"Hungary also suffers from low trust in institutions in general, while there tends to be a strong reliance on personal, informal networks," it observes. "This helps to explain the high usage of social media in Hungary, though it is worth noting, if slightly surprising, that only 27% trust the news accessed this way."

In government-dominated small media markets such as Hungary, funding independent journalism becomes a crucial and difficult issue, says the report. A very small portion of Hungarian news consumers pay for online news (8%), while one third (32%) use an ad-blocker (6th highest out of 37 countries).

The chapter on Hungary and the downloadable full report are available here.

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