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Hungary: The Story of an Investigative Journalist

The Hungarian media are still covering the developing story of the real estate issue concerning the village of Páty, close to the capital Budapest. An investigative journalist, Tamás Bodoky—who got a Pulitzer Memorial Prize in March 2010—has been writing reports for the Hungarian news site index.hu (HUN), and also worked on the story of real estate investments at Páty. His article (HUN) about the case was published on the website, but later it was re-edited by the editor-in-chief. One paragraph was deleted from the text without any notification to the author. The internal debate among Bodoky and the deputy editor-in-chief appeared on the journalist's blog (HUN). Tamás Bodoky resigned from his job, but his story received special media coverage and generated public conversation on how important the role of investigative journalism is in Hungary, at a time when stories like the Páty case have to be investigated and reported.

Treuga Mei of Reágáló summarized (HUN) briefly the Páty case:

[…] So what is the Páty case about? A group of companies—the same which failed at Sávoly [with building a motor race course] because of its untenable financial constructions—would theoretically start to build a golf course, but in the meantime the plan is turning to a subdivision land. A settlement of some thousand would have the same amount of other residents jammed into one area, next to the neighboring settlement—called Telki—pieced together with a road for heavy traffic. […]

An article (HUN) covering the relations between investors and politicians was published on index.hu, telling that some people working against the investments were threatened (Bodoky himself, too) or defamed. The last paragraph of the article was subsequently deleted from the text. This paragraph contains names of Hungarian entrepreneurs who may be involved in the strange real estate issue if one takes a closer look at their networks and the investing groups at Páty, the relations are implied in the text. The paragraph also implies a closer relation among them and Viktor Orbán, who is now the Hungarian prime minister. When the article was published, Hungary was between two rounds of the parliamentary elections; however, after the first round, Fidesz, the party of Orbán, already won almost two thirds of the seats in parliament. Then he was the PM candidate, so mentioning him was also a sensitive point.

Bodoky, who uses his blog (HUN) to get feedback from the readers, wrote a comment (HUN) about this paragraph to the post (HUN) concerning the mentioned article:

We have a big fight on the last paragraph: what does it contain that the editor-in-chief and the managing editor want to remove it by any means?

According to reports of Origo [origo.hu news site (HUN)], in the VIP box of the Sóstó Stadium in Székesfehérvár, Viktor Orbán [now prime minister] is regularly watching [football] games together with Bence János Kovács; Sándor Csányi, the president of OTP and Zsolt Hernádi, the president of Mol. The financing of the football academy in Felcsút, founded by Fidesz's PM candidate [at that time V. Orbán], is also supported by Mol, and [Trigránit], which is alleged to Sándor Demján, not so long ago Demján bought Milton Bank founded by Wallis.

Imre Tevan, the deputy editor-in-chief of index.hu, after arguing about how these statements could be read, commented under the name of erminavet on Bodoky's blog:

@bomi: What is not true in my arguing?
There was no censorship. That's not censorship when the editor-in-chief edits something out.

Maid's answer (HUN) to erminavet:

@erminavet: you are not being serious when you say that, according to you, censorship only occurs “WHEN AN EXTERIOR INSTITUTION, ORGANISATION, THE STATE EDITS OUT” something from an article?

In this case censorship nowadays couldn't even happen because it's hardly possible that a commercial media enterprise would handle media content to any exterior institution, organisation, the state (of course it wouldn't?). So in the past 20 years when we felt like there was censorship, that was only a delusion, nothing else :)

The problem is that it really is censorship when someone, e.g. the editor-in-chief, is changing the content of an article which is already out in the market. Even if it's not the state or the institution which is editing but the editor-in-chief, we are still talking about the same thing, at the most, the question is if the exterior pressure finds the journalist personally or through the editor-in-chief. Really, it is hard to believe that a totally petty paragraph (which has significance only because of the names that it mentions) could fall under such a different judgment between a journalist and an editor (it passed through you, so how strange, you are standing on the same side) and the editor-in-chief. […]

A later comment from erminavet to the post that has more than 900 comments:

[…] You really do think that a newspaper can do what it wants to do? If the editor-in-chief is afraid of something, then it's only because he is a coward? A fictitiously accused big entrepreneur has many means to harm the paper, it's enough to think about the legal ones. The removed sentences are an excellent base to a libel lawsuit. We could never prove that the mentioned three men are involved in the case. And it's not enough that another paper [origo.hu] wrote this. After a lost lawsuit one can file a suit for compensation, the court would surely think that the business honor to a big entrepreneur is worth very much.

Tamás Bodoky shared his official resignation letter with his readers in a comment (HUN). Later he had an interview (HUN) on a website dealing with investigative journalism:

[…] JS: In addition to this, you are the only investigative journalist in the country who has a Facebook fan page.

BT: Yes, I receive a lot of feedback and information this way. I am happy with this because it's the first time I feel that investigative journalism genre has notability in this country, that it really can work as a means of control. Until now the practice was that someone wrote something but it had no consequences. Now I realize that the public is paying attention and it's not possible to simply hush things up. There is interest and there is feedback. It's good. […]

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