January 7th, 2013

State broadcaster apologizes after high-profile writer makes censorship charge

Hungary’s state broadcasting authority has apologized to writer Péter Esterházy after an editor cut a section of his arts review on state radio – a move that Esterházy has condemned as state censorship.

Esterházy, 62, says he was invited to contribute a monthly commentary to the Trendidők culture program on state-run Kossuth Rádió. When the broadcast aired on Christmas Day, it was missing the section in which Esterházy urged listeners to attend productions staged by outgoing National Theater director Róbert Álföldi, whose sexually explicit style has infuriated conservatives close to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Esterházy accused state radio of bowdlerizing his piece a manner reminiscent of communist-era censorship.

“Today, I don’t want to live in either 1981 or 1986. I’ve already lived through it once, and once was enough,” he wrote in the January 4 edition of Élet és Íródalom, the leading academic weekly.

Esterházy adds his voice to a chorus of critics who say the Orbán administration is trying to strong-arm Hungary’s public-service media. In December 2011, state television garnered international condemnation after editors pixellated out the face of Zoltán Lomnici, a former chief judge and Orbán critic, from news footage. Journalists have launched a hunger strike to protest what they called the “manipulation” of state news.

The Media Support and Asset Management Fund (MTVA), which oversees Hungary’s public-service media, apologized to Esterházy, but denied that the omission amounted to censorship.

“Esterházy’s recommendation on the National Theater did not concern concrete events,” MTVA said in a Jan. 3 statement released on state news service MTI. “For this reason, [the editor] regarded it as incompatible with the show’s structure.” MTVA also stressed that the program was produced by an outside company, not state radio itself.

Álföldi, 45, has been no stranger to controversy since taking over as director of the Hungarian National Theater five years ago. In 2010, an advertisement for his production of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata displayed a giant phallus made of pink marzipan. In 2011, actors simulated fellatio during Álföldi’s staging of Imre Madach’s Tragedy of Man. When a female journalist asked Álföldi about the propriety of this directorial choice, he responded, “I wish you this kind of oral sex, from this moment through the rest of your life.” Members of Parliament demanded Álföldi’s immediate termination.

Hungary’s government last month announced it would not renew Álföldi’s contract, which expires on June 30.

Esterházy, a descendant of the Hungarian aristocratic family who patronized artists such as Joseph Haydn, urged people to see Álföldi’s productions while they still could. “In my opinion, the National [Theater] has never been so close to the audience as it is now, under Alföldi’s direction,” he wrote.

Alex Kuli (@alexanderkuli) is a contributing editor at Politics.hu.
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  • Vándorló

    Good to see the Esterházy case mentioned here, but some of this English is a bit too wierd: 1. someone asked to be subjected to ‘termination’ rather than ‘resignation’ 2. ‘Esterházys’ patronizing artists such as Joseph Haydn’, rather than ‘acting as their patrons’.

    Further, if you read his (Péter’s) piece in Élet és Irodalom he already foresees and counters their excuses, and fully rejects them.

    Why not refer directly to what Esterházy wrote, rather than secondary MTI spewed material?

  • MagyarViking

    “MTVA also stressed that the program was produced by an outside company, not state radio itself”

    Of course, this is the normal way to take tax money out from the State Radio and give to the Fidesz cronies out there and the stupid fuckers thinks that is a defence..?

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