At the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (TASZ), we work to ensure that we live in a free country with equal opportunities for all. We have been helping citizens since 1994 with our free legal aid service, providing legal advice and in some cases representation. Our aim is to ensure that everyone in Hungary can know and assert their fundamental rights, and we do this independently of state bodies and political parties. We launch campaigns to change systemic problems, and help more people to know and defend their rights through campaigns, workshops and information materials.
Our Free January campaign was launched after the protests in December 2018. After opposition MPs were dragged out of the public media building by security guards because they were not given the opportunity to make critical points about the new legislation, known as the Slave Act, on public television. Free January is a campaign for informed news consumption and against propaganda media. The aim of the campaign was to highlight how propaganda works, to show why free and diverse information is important and to give citizens the tools to take action against the noise of the state propaganda machine.
The operating mechanisms of the propaganda media, its all-encompassing toolbox, affect the whole of society. We are informed about propaganda fake news even if we do not want to be. It is there in our cars while listening to music, at half-time during sporting events, in the subway, in the doctor's office and, in many cases, as background noise at the family dinner table. We wanted to give citizens the tools to recognise propaganda news, products, how it works and what they can do about it. We used different campaign elements linked to our objectives.
Week after week, we set challenges for citizens to take action in their everyday lives to eliminate propaganda falsehoods from their daily lives. We urged our followers to protect themselves and their loved ones from propaganda products spreading fake news. With these challenges, we wanted to show that credible journalism is independent of political sides and can be verified by objective factors. The challenges included some that added an extra perspective to citizens' own media consumption habits, but also some where we asked people to talk to people they know about how the media works, the nature of fake news and the problems it causes. We also helped with the latter by distributing informative, informative images on social media, summarising in a few points, in a structured and clear way, what propaganda media are, what their tools are and what the guidelines for credible journalism are.
It was important for us to show the hallmarks of credible journalism, and for journalists who are independent of power to tell their own stories of working in a media market that is uneven, where their work is deliberately obstructed and where there is constant discrediting and discrediting. Because while propaganda products are supported by state bodies and the government, non propaganda media are hampered by various means: journalists working there are not given interviews, are denied information of public interest or are banned from important events. The campaign therefore interviewed journalists who are doing their job independently despite the difficulties.
The majority of TASZ campaigns have a legal professional and/or pressure element. In the case of Free January, this was a case against KESMA (Central European Press and Media Foundation). The Mérték Media Analysis Workshop has calculated that KESMA concentrates 40 percent of the revenue of the news and public media market (excluding public media). Such concentration seriously distorts the media market, undermines media diversity and makes fair economic competition impossible. The lack of a competition authority procedure and the government's decision also raise a number of substantive, formal and constitutional problems. The scale of the merger is unprecedented in the domestic media market, and the merged media giant will also be active in printing, newspaper distribution and publishing.
In court, we represented the online newspaper Szabad Pécs, which was at a significant disadvantage in the local advertising market against KESMA. You can read about the details and outcome of the case here: https://tasz.hu/kesma
The Free January campaign had offline elements (distribution of awareness leaflets, a trade event, etc.), but our content was mainly online, on social media platforms and in the online press. For this reason, we can judge the effectiveness of the campaign by the reach figures shown there, where our videos with journalists, our challenges and our awareness-raising images have generated tens of thousands of hits. Group discussions with our volunteers, followers and supporters have shown an increase in awareness of propaganda media among them. More and more of them and press workers started to label propaganda as non-press, and those working for propaganda newspapers as non-journalists. These results were reflected in the final event of the campaign, which included a round table and a world café discussion.
When designing the campaign, our aim was to give our followers tools and to make the main messages as clear as possible to as many people as possible: propaganda media deceives, manipulates, creates fear and propaganda is not the press.
The biggest difficulty was reaching consumers of propaganda products. We knew before the campaign that it would be virtually impossible to get these messages to them, so we tried to reach them through challenges. We do not have data on how successful this was, but we do know from anecdotal evidence that our followers in family and friends circles initiated conversations about propaganda as a result of the campaign.
We found that the mixed use of tools worked well, with online-offline, text-video content complementing each other well. In many ways, we were able to produce new and interesting content, and people continued to share our content, which helped spread the message. Next time we do something similar, we should certainly spend more time on the planning phase and establish clear partnerships with potential partners, with clear frameworks and tasks in advance, so that we can jointly represent the key messages. In our case, we assumed that the content we produced together would be distributed together to reach a wider audience, but this did not work. In any social campaign, the more the message is visible from the direction of the stakeholders or supporters, the more effective the campaign will be.
We want to live in a society where the press informs responsibly and exposes injustice. Where the press is credible to the citizen even if the reader's values differ from those of the author of the article: what is a lie is not a matter of worldview. We hope that our Free January campaign has helped citizens to recognise this.
Videos and summaries of the campaign can be found here: https://tasz.hu/szabad-januar