Hungary’s main political YouTube channel is a go-to for Orban critics ahead of the election

BUDAPEST (AFP) — Their studio is improvised and their funds come largely from the crowd, but Hungary’s main political YouTube channel is one of the few remaining voices in the country critical of the government.

Partizan has become a must-watch for hundreds of thousands of Hungarians ahead of Sunday’s general election in which nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban will face his closest fight for political survival in years.

Founder and host Marton Gulyas, who produces at least one in-depth discussion, debate or interview a day, says the aim is to “unleash the political imagination of the people”.

“Here, the public media have no ambition to create public service content, they just broadcast government propaganda,” Gulyas, a bearded and lanky 35-year-old, told AFP.

“It doesn’t work for the people as it should, instead it destroys and intoxicates public discourse and debate,” he said.

Partizan’s studio is in a dilapidated red-brick warehouse on the outskirts of Budapest. The channel represents only a fraction of the roughly 350 million euro taxpayer-funded budget allocated annually to Hungarian public broadcaster MTVA.

Marton Gulyas, director of online TV channel ‘Partizan’ poses for a photo in their studio in Budapest on March 30, 2022. (ATTILA KISBENEDEK / AFP)

MTVA, which boasts a state-of-the-art headquarters just one kilometer (mile) from Partizan, faithfully follows the government line of the time.

News stories typically attack the EU, migration or the opposition, and currently match Orban’s neutral approach to the Russian invasion.

The central European country now ranks 92nd – the second lowest in the EU – in media watchdog Reporters Without Borders’ annual press freedom index.

Micro-donations

Independent news outlets have been largely squeezed out – with their licenses revoked or editors replaced with those who support the government line.

During the election campaign, the news TV channel M1 and MTVA radio stations bombarded viewers with pro-Orban messages.

M1 rebroadcast Orban’s National Day speech nine times on March 15 the next day.

(COMBO) This combination of archive photos created on April 2, 2022 in Berlin shows (L) the candidate of the Hungarian Prime Minister of the Everybody’s Hungary movement Peter Marki-Zay attending an event in Budapest on March 15, 2022, and (R) Hungarian Prime Minister Minister Viktor Orban speaking to media representatives upon his arrival on the first day of a European Union (EU) summit at the European Council building in Brussels on June 24, 2021. (PETER KOHALMI and John THYS / various sources / AFP)

That same morning, Orban’s challenger, provincial mayor Peter Marki-Zay, had just five minutes to present his election manifesto on the channel, although it was the first time an opposition politician had stood up. sees granted a platform to express itself on M1 in four years.

Government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs denies that public media coverage tilts in favor of Orban’s ruling Fidesz party.

“If you listen to the morning news on the radio, it’s clear there’s a variety of views and opinions,” he told AFP.

Partizan now has more than 270,000 subscribers, a number Gulyas says is growing dynamically and the channel is funded by thousands of micro-donations.

“If you like what we’re doing, please consider donating,” the host said as he signed off on an election talk show with a point mark on camera.

A former director of a theater group, then a prominent activist arrested five years ago for throwing paint at the presidential palace, Gulyas created Partizan in 2018.

Hungarian opposition alliance candidate for Prime Minister Peter Marki-Zay is seen from behind as he delivers a speech during an event to close his election campaign in Budapest on April 2, 2022, on the eve of the Hungarian legislative elections. (FERENC ISZA / AFP)

No “traitor”

A few government-linked figures dare to face a fence over Partizan, but invitations to Orban – who also declined to debate challenger Marki-Zay – from cabinet ministers and Fidesz politicians go unanswered.

“I like getting out of my bubble,” Gulyas said, but he “recognizes” that going on his show is risky for politicians.

A capricious comment by Marki-Zay on the war in Ukraine during a Partizan interview was picked up by Orban’s campaign.

“Asking fair and just questions can weaken not strengthen the position of the opposition, but I can’t do interviews any other way,” Gulyas said.

Agnes Urban, media expert with watchdog Mertek Media Monitor, said Partizan was “vulnerable because it could be taken down for any reason” by internet giants.

FIDESZ party supporters attend the closing session of the campaign, to listen to a speech by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in Szekesfehervar, Hungary, on April 1, 2022. (Attila KISBENEDEK / AFP)

“It depends on the decisions of the main digital platforms, if for example YouTube closes down, or Facebook decides that some of its content is inappropriate or illegal, or if the EU imposes strict regulations on digital platforms in the future, in these Partizan case can’t do anything,” Urban said.

A former employee of the public broadcaster between 2015 and 2019, Andras Rostovanyi, 31, has leaked a hidden recording of an editorial meeting which revealed senior executives ordering staff to cover politically sensitive topics with a pro-government orientation.

“Some of my colleagues might consider me a traitor but I don’t think I am,” the former Foreign Office journalist told AFP.

“In fact, it was my former bosses who betrayed the public service. I have done more public service than them, just by revealing this,” he said.

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