BRIDGES Working paper nº 7

Migration narratives in media and social media. The case of Hungary

Fecha de publicación:
Éva Bognár; Péter Kerényi; Endre Sik; Ráchel Surányi and Zsolt Szabolcsi

BRIDGES Working paper nº 7 (2023)

This BRIDGES national report contains two case studies in Hungary. The first one follows the media coverage of an incident that lasted only for a few seconds: a Hungarian camerawoman tripped over refugees, including children as they were running away from the police near the Serbian border in the wake of the so-called “refugee crisis” of 2015 in Hungary. The second case is the national consultation on immigration and terrorism, a push-poll, employed by the Hungarian government in 2015 in order to legitimize its policies.

The two cases present completely different dynamics: The first case was a spontaneous incident and since the event itself did not fit the government’s pre-existing narrative on migration, articulated in billboard campaigns, the pro-government media minimised the coverage of the event in the first phase of the story. This, however, opened up space for independent and anti-government actors to create the dominant narrative of the event.

The opposite was the case with the second case. As part of the moral panic button (MPB) propaganda technology, it was initiated by the government to create and manipulate public opinion. Consequently, pro-government actors, including pro-government media, from the beginning were in a hegemonic position when it came to creating the narrative and interpretations of the event, putting everyone else in a reactive position - doomed to lose.

There is, however, a common feature of the cases: the lack of any discussion, let alone debate, we otherwise identify with the media’s role as a democratic institution. In Hungary’s polarized and politicized media environment, the common characteristic of the narratives present in the stories is that they can be easily identified by who propagates them (whether pro-government or non-government actors). The debate is often reduced to binaries that limits arguments and narratives to “are you for or against” migration/the Hungarian government/Hungarians. This lack of colours of potential narratives and arguments is the success of MPB: the production of a narrative is part of a larger propaganda machinery which is pushed for so long (already at least for seven years) with such intensity that it cannot be fought.

Keywords: migration, narratives, media, social media, Hungary, László, national consultation, moral panic button, MPB