The hyper-politicised nature of today's Hungarian media space makes it much more difficult for civil messages to be published as well. The communication channels have become polarised, it is increasingly difficult to break out of our own bubble, and it is made even more difficult by the algorithms of social media.

The drastic transformation of the media market over the past twelve years has resulted in a strong government influence over the mass media in Hungary. Messages that do not voice or reinforce the rhetoric of central power, but express reservations about it or present alternative paths, are not replaced on the surface of the media dependent on the Hungarian government or state-owned media. Any issue or cause that is interpreted as criticism by the authorities - and civil issues are by their very nature very often such - is left with very little outlet. Independent media platforms reach only a narrow section of society, and opposition media platforms are often also prisoners of their own worldviews or open only to certain issues. The government media apparatus often knowingly or even unintentionally misinforms. By spreading false information or negative opinions about our civil affairs, civil communication in Hungary faces extra challenges.

The lack of EU regulation and state intervention leaves it to the remaining independent media platforms and NGOs to tackle the disinformation narratives that proliferate in an unequal media space.

It's not easy to make our voices heard as civilians in this space, but it is possible and important.

In this article, we have collected several successful NGO communication campaigns from recent years. The exclusion of critical voices and opposition messages from the overwhelmingly pro-government media, and the loss of credibility caused by negative campaigns, highlights the importance of effective civic campaigns, whose success lies in providing understandable information, credibility and emotional connection.

The winners of the Civic Award's (organized yearly by NIOK) category: Best communication campaigns always are great exampley of successfull NGO campaigns. That is what was the case in 2022: SOS Children's Villages' s communication campaign: Don't Judge Me First, Budapest Bike Maffia Association's Balaton for Us and Mosoly Foundation's Mosoly25 are all showcasing inspirational stories. You can read about a discussion with them about their campigns here.

Blue Line Children's Crisis Foundation's 'You are not alone' campaign and the UNICEF Hungarian Committee Foundation's 'Recognise and Act Against' Campaigns also got recognised on the Civic Awards in 2021, you can read about the interview with the two finalists in the category here. The conversation reveals how the two NGOs were able to reach a wide audience on a sensitive topic, and what online and offline tools they used to do so. They also discuss working with influencers, engaging young people and using social media platforms to explore the elements of successful campaigning.

The focus of the activities of the Children and Youth Self-Government Association (GYIÖT) is to increase the participation of young people, to develop the Hungarian youth profession and to raise its profile and recognition. Their 2022 communication campaign "Are you involved in youth work?" was also aimed at achieving these goals. How they were able to reach out to a wider range of youth workers and make the profession more visible and popular is explained in this article.

The next campaigns have explicitly countered the disinformation narrative:

  • After five opposition MPs were forcibly removed from the state media building in 2019, the Free January campaign of the civil rights NGO Society for Civil Liberties drew attention to the struggle for press freedom. The month-long social media challenge aimed to show citizens how to fight propaganda. Read more about the details and lessons learned from the campaign here.

  • Among the many targeted campaigns of the civil sector, the most famous is the Rainbow Families Foundation's Family is Family 2020 initiative, which was launched in response to the inclusion of the "mother is a woman, father is a man" clause in the Fundamental Law, and was organised to defend the rights of the LGBTQ+ community. The organisation's #Ugyanaz campaign has been featured on social media, 200 billboards, online and in print. The involvement of well-known artists and influencers has contributed to its popularity, according to Márton Pál, the movement's founder. Read more about the details and lessons learned from the campaign here.

  • Timed to coincide with the 2021 National Unity Day, the #TöbbKötÖssze initiative focused on hate speech against the governing party. In the TASZ campaign, actor Zsolt Nagy quotes exclusionary statements from frontline Hungarian politicians such as Viktor Orbán, János Lázár and László Kövér. You can read more about the campaign and its lessons here.

Looking at the campaigns, it can be concluded that they present both a practical and an emotional message. On the one hand, they present the problem they are addressing in an informative and factual way, the educational content is presented in a short, easy to understand, colloquial form, often with expert voices. In addition, they foster an emotional connection with the personal stories of the people concerned and with well-known actors (media personalities, artists). The success of the Family is Family campaign is further illustrated by the fact that more than forty market players, such as IKEA, HBO and the Sziget Festival, have joined the initiative as part of their corporate social responsibility. The above highlighted examples show that the inclusion of well-known but non-partisan media personalities and the participation of market players contribute to the credibility of the messages and can reach a wider section of society by generating greater awareness.

The article was finalised by the NIOK Foundation based on a contribution from the Mertek Media Monitor.