Instead of political bias, Gábor Gavra explains the Baja by-election video debacle last October with the spreading of the quantitative approach and the enormous pressure to produce website visitor numbers. Gavra gave his first interview since his resignation to investigative news portal atlatszo.hu.
If it wasn’t political bias, then how did the Baja video slip through? When I watched it before the scandal began, I became suspicious immediately. Wasn’t it weird for you, for example, that zooming is used in a hidden camera recording?
We – myself and the editor of the Hungary section – were incompetent, not biased; this much is clear. We missed much more suspicious things than zooming. Prior to the video or the article being published, we identified one of the people appearing in the video as Róbert G., when someone on the recording clearly says “Hi, Józsi” to him. Nobody noticed that. Not the author, not the editor, not me. I say this because in this case I wasn’t only the editor-in-chief of the website but managing editor of that day.
Rumours started to spread that you alone published the video, without any control from the editorial team.
This is not a rumour. HVG CEO Péter Szauer said this in an interview with Kreatív. This of course doesn’t make it true.
So Szauer is lying. Is that what you are saying?
The statement above is untrue. Also untrue is the internal communication of saying that I changed the title of the article to intentionally cause damage. In addition to not being true, these statements are completely unnecessary. I already took responsibility for the video and the actions mentioned are really simple to trace in the website’s editorial system.
Who wrote the article then?
I will not tell you that. The person was my subordinate at that moment and as an editor I accepted that the article will not be published with their name. I will obviously not change this after the fact. I would say the same if you were asking about the title of the article.
Is it true that you were the one who received the recording in Jókai utca (note: where the headquarters of the Socialist party is located)?
I was one of two people, because as an editor-in-chief I never liked meeting politicians alone. Contrary to later suggestions, neither of us made a promise that we will publish the video. After this the video went through the proper editorial channels. It was assigned to a journalist, who wrote it and gave it to the editor of the domestic section and me for copy editing. There was no need for the suggested guerrilla efforts. The article slipped through the editorial system like a knife through butter. Again, this doesn’t mitigate my responsibility as an editor-in-chief.
And the successes of the past two years did not give you enough “leverage” to somehow survive this as editor-in-chief?
I don’t know what would have happened if I wanted to survive. I didn’t… When Róbert G. admitted that the video was fake, I offered my resignation to Szauer immediately. He did not accept and made me ask for a vote of confidence and decide what to do, when I’m already aware of the result. The staff voted 22-2 in my favour, but the following day I had to realise that the people who were involved in the process did not think that they made a mistake. I think this was the moment when the “guerrilla editor” story began to unfold… It also became clear to me that because of my involvement in the process I would not be able to sanction others responsible. I couldn’t and didn’t want to handle this situation as an editor-in-chief, so I tendered my irrevocable resignation.
I’m still amazed that you presented a video from an external source as proof of election manipulation. Did you verify the content?
By October hvg.hu became a completely burned-out organisation, which is mainly my responsibility. The enormous increase in visitor numbers that we achieved in the previous two years was the result of a staggering quantitative production: some thirty people produced about 300 articles and news reports on a daily basis… That’s twice as much as index.hu or origo.hu (note: two of the biggest news portals in Hungary). Unfortunately I encouraged this mass production instead of trying to hold it back. Such a conveyor-belt type approach will revenge itself in the long run. You will get sick or run into a lawsuit. It was neither. For us it was the video debacle… It was me and the section editor caring only about the fact that this will increase the number of visitors… There was no conspiracy; the truth is much more prosaic. We left the journalist alone with a story, the immensity of which we failed to realise. Verification should have been our job, and if we weren’t sure we should have involved others in the decision-making process.