It’s not often coups get planned in broad daylight, much less with coverage by the media, but that seems to be what’s unfolding in Hungary right now. In a special meeting of the U.S. Conservative Political Action Conference, better known as CPAC, America’s aspiring autocrats are taking lessons from Europe’s most successful one: Viktor Orbán.
Hungary’s prime minister, who has spent his 12 years in power transforming the country from a functioning democracy to a de facto fascist state, laid out a 12-point blueprint for how other Christian conservatives can follow in his footsteps. Chief among those points was the role the media, and Orbán’s control over it, has played in his Fidesz party’s consolidation of power.
“Have your own media. It’s the only way to point out the insanity of the progressive left,” he told the CPAC audience. “The problem is that the western media is adjusted to the leftist viewpoint. Those who taught reporters in universities already had progressive leftist principles.”
Orbán clearly practices what he preaches. In Hungary’s most recent election, state-controlled media outlets made it almost impossible for opposition candidates to have their message heard, much less supported. As the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe said in a report, “The campaign itself was characterized by a pervasive overlap between the ruling coalition’s campaign messages and the government’s information campaigns, amplifying the advantage of the ruling coalition and blurring the line between state and party.”
As American scholar and former assistant secretary of state J. Brian Atwood wrote in a recent op-ed, Orbán’s populist message in the recent Hungarian election blamed immigrants, universities, Muslims and the LGBT community, along with “faceless bureaucrats in Brussels,” for the country’s problems. “Orbán’s drift over time toward corrupt autocratic power and xenophobic populism is a case study of how democracies can be perverted,” he wrote.
To other European nations, Hungary’s retreat from democracy is hard to watch. But for the Trumpist right, it’s a how-to guide for the 2024 election and beyond. Orbán told the Trumpist Republicans in attendance at CPAC that they should run shows like Tucker Carlson Tonight “24-7” in order to bend the broader narrative in their favour.
That’s a lesson Canadian conservatives who are watching at a distance could also take to heart. It wasn’t that long ago, after all, that Stephen Harper was tweeting his delight at Orbán’s 2018 election victory. “Congratulations to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Hungary's Fidesz for winning a decisive fourth term! The IDU [International Democratic Union, an international alliance of conservative parties] and I are looking forward to working with you.”
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Canada isn’t in any danger of embracing Hungarian-style fascism, but Orbán’s manipulation of the media could easily serve as an inspiration for our conservatives — and specifically the one poised to become leader of the Conservative Party of Canada.
Already, we’ve seen Alberta Premier Jason Kenney use tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to fund a “War Room” in order to shift the narrative around Alberta’s oil and gas industry and get his own call-in radio show from one of the province’s biggest radio stations. Doug Ford’s government beat him to the punch here by creating Ontario News Now, a blatant attempt to do an end-run around actual journalists and their pesky questions. And, of course, the ultra-cozy relationship between his director of media relations, Ivana Yelich, and Postmedia columnist Brian Lilley speaks for itself.
But the big prize is at the federal level, and that’s where this campaign to sideline the media will almost certainly move next. In a recent interview with Jordan Peterson, Conservative leadership hopeful Pierre Poilievre hinted he had plans to rejig the Canadian media landscape. “(Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s policies) make the entire media apparatus dependent on the goodwill of the state,” he said. “I haven’t made an announcement on exactly how I’m going to fix that problem yet, but … stay tuned.”
Defunding the CBC, as Poilievre has promised to do numerous times, might not be the hill he really wants to die on. But reviving Sun TV, the failed attempt from a decade ago to create a Canadian version of Fox News, could theoretically be on the table.
If Poilievre wanted to do that, ensuring the mandatory carriage status it was denied in 2013 by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) would go a long way towards meeting Orbán’s prescription. It would fill Canada’s airways with openly partisan — and unapologetically conservative — content and force millions of Canadians to pay for it. Poilievre has never said he would fund a right-wing media operation like this, but it’s not hard to see why he would try.
If it did ever happen, the Trudeau Liberals would have to be credited with an unintentional assist. By opening the door to government funding of media organizations and outlets, they have invited conservatives to test the limits of what does and doesn’t qualify as journalism. And while the first iteration of Sun TV was a clunky attempt at cloning Fox News, it’s hard to imagine the people behind it didn’t learn from their mistakes.
There will be no Ezra Levant in the next version, as just one example. The production values will be better, if only because they probably couldn’t be any worse. And conservative pundits and politicians have years of gaslighting practice on issues like free speech and diversity of opinion that they could easily bring to bear on the government regulators at the CRTC.
So brace yourself, Canada. We’re not at risk of backsliding away from democracy the way Hungary has and America’s Republicans clearly want to, but Harper and the IDU are almost certainly still working with Orbán in one way or another.
If they get their way, our media ecosystem may soon get even more conservative than it already is.
Canada's own Typhoid Tucker
Canada's own Typhoid Tucker has yet to emerge, if only Pierre could clone himself for the position. Even though he has never had a job neither has he had a day off from preaching out of the Overton window.
This is very disturbing but
This is very disturbing but it's good to be aware of what's happening in places like Hungary. Democracy really seems to be at risk globally.
I'm very concerned about Poilievre's suggestions to defund the CBC. I was horrified to see reports of abuse, include spitting, at journalists during the so-called trucker protests.
Well, we had a wannabe Fox,
Well, we had a wannabe Fox, and it starved to death, as I recall.
Canadians are still smarter, and more thoughtful, and better informed, and more ethical, than that group of ..........
Well said that a large
Well said that a large percentage Canadians are more thoughtful, accepting and caring, informed, ethical.
Fact mean more than political snake oil.
Watching the political
Watching the political retrogression & war mongering (policing the world) of the United States over the past 60 years or more & watching the beginnings of that retrogression infiltrate Canada, slowly enough to hardly notice at first, it wouldn't surprise me in the least to see the negative aspects of conservative or liberal groups & mindsets try to set up the same circumstances in every democracy, including Canada. Control - the result of fear, usually of the 'other' - is an insidious aspect of the human mind, the two year old in all of us, who gets angry whenever their way of thought or deed is circumvented, questioned or stymied. Poilievre has never had a job outside of the political arena, never been a part of building a company, corporation or community group. The only world he knows is the one he has created himself without inhibitions, discourse, or mutual understanding & respect within and around all sides of any spectrum. There are many people that love to destroy what others have created only to fill the hole with nothing more than hyperbole - no plan, no action, just destroy, abase what the 'other' has made or suggested. They have no creative skills on how to build a nation, bring people together to work towards building a healthy, progressive, environment. They only know how to humiliate, demean & belittle those who do try to improve conditions. That's why they have to control the media. That is why we are watching our local & national news entities slowly bending the rules, becoming biased in their reporting in order to send the message that the 'other' is the enemy. In Canada, the enemy for the Conservatives is the Liberals. No amount of discourse or mutual respect is even contemplated by these frightened, angry people. Their biggest issue is using tax dollars to pay for the less fortunate, the weakest, the sickest, the frailest to survive in this corporatocracy our 'brave new world' has now created worldwide. Today, corporations run the world, not any government of any one country has the power to do what corporations are now capable. Those with the biggest fears hang on to the coattails of these corporate 'entities' willing to do anything they may want. Until and when the education of our youth returns to the truth of our past, the truth of our errors and learns once again the concept of ethics, I, for one, feel we are on a path that just may be irreversible in my time.
Mandatory carriage status isn
Mandatory carriage status isn't what it used to be; cable TV is increasingly a spent force. My wife and I are old, and even we dumped cable recently in favour of just getting the same stuff over the internet. So that's not where I'd be worried.
Poilievre, and the modern Conservative movement in general, do want to control the media. But mostly in North America the approach is not direct public control, but privatized control by private right wing ideologues. The most important thing that's happened recently in Canada's media landscape is not anything the government has done or P.P. has said, it's a right wing billionaire taking over the Toronto Star so he can change it from a Liberal-friendly to a Conservative-and-conspiracy-friendly news source. The big dangers we can expect from Conservative governments is further enabling monopolies, big shameless subsidies to media on their side, and if they feel really bold, outright selling the CBC to some right wing crony.
Should Perrier Poilievre
Should Perrier Poilievre chose to do this (Christian Conservative news network) I feel it would be only right for the Canadian people to launch a: "Fact Check News"
A network to give people the truth to counter any information that could be considered untrue from any and all parties. And have it paid for by the Federal Government.
I am glad and proud to sponsor the CNO which is private and not partisan.
In discussions of Fox News,
In discussions of Fox News, everybody should link back to the memoir of Dan Cooper, who helped found Fox as one of the first producers. He describes it, not as a news network at all, but as a 7x24 permanent political campaign office.
It does the same stuff political campaign offices do: not address the actual news, but to cherry pick anything from other news sources that an "issue" can be made from, (fist-bump at conservative victories, mock outrage at all liberal actions) and pump that issue.
The Alberta "War Room" is similar to Fox, not to a news source.
When media is captured by
When media is captured by those who believe democracy is dead who also have the black money to pervert truth in the service of kleptocracy and tyranny, government is the only recourse to stomp out the cockroaches.
It may already be too late; the epidemic neglect of regulation, trust busting, and obeisance to the criminal lobbying conspiracies is rapidly allowing the right wing nut jobs full access to the nation's levers of power - thanks to the lily livered liberals and the parasitic PC's