Hungarian foreign minister Péter Szijjártó had to chide BBC anchor Emily Maitlis for “unbalanced, one-sided” journalism after she lost her temper and launched into a rant about the EU standing for “tolerance, diversity, and human rights”.
Speaking to Szijjártó on the publicly-funded broadcaster’s flagship BBC Newsnight programme, Maitlis took umbrage with the Hungarian statesman’s claim that “the current migration policy of the European Union can be very easily translated as an invitation” to illegal migrants.
“On World Refugee Day this week, you passed a new law which makes it illegal to help migrants. It criminalises helping undocumented immigrants, and that includes asylum seekers. Why would you do that?” she asked.
Szijjártó attempted to correct the presenter, saying that the anti-illegal immigration package — dubbed ‘Stop Soros’ — was aimed only at those organisations which “help people to ask for asylum even if they have no legal basis for that… and promoting [immigration] opportunities with no legal basis”.
Hungarian Govt Outlines ‘Stop Soros’ Legislation Criminalising NGOs Which Aid and Abet Illegal Migrants https://t.co/UCEnTT5DjW
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) June 2, 2018
Maitlis appeared not to take heed of Szijjártó’s explanation, however, jabbing her finger at the foreign minister and doubling down on her previous claims.
“You will be making it illegal to help refugees fill in form,” she alleged, leaning forward aggressively.
“You will make it punishable by jail to organise or distribute information that could help migrants.
“Now, you accept that this legislation flouts not only human rights, but it also breaks an international treaty you have signed,” she asserted, laughing incredulously.
“The content of the law is not what you have listed,” replied the Hungarian, perplexed.
“The content of the law is that if you promote illegal possibilities to come to Hungary–” he began to explain, before Maitlis interrupted him.
“No, I want to talk about this question of ‘illegal’, right, because anyone who lands in your country who calls themself an asylum seeker has the right to have their papers and their situation examined,” she insisted.
Szijjártó attempted to explain that Hungary, which lies in Central Europe, is surrounded by peaceful countries, and that there is “no point of reference in any piece of international regulations why you should be allowed or helped or assisted to violate the border between two peaceful countries”.
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) May 22, 2016
Maitlis did not address this point, but turned openly scornful, sneering: “You do know you don’t have an immigrant problem in Hungary? You do know that your own official data says you have 3,600 asylum seekers in a country of ten million? You do know that there were 300 asylum claims only this year? You don’t have an immigrant problem in your country!”
Szijjártó explained that illegal migration into Hungary — which was running at 3,000 a day at the height of the migrant crisis, as Maitlis herself reported at the time — has only been brought under control because of the tough stance adopted by the Hungarian government, and that the country remains on the frontline as the situation in the Balkans looks set to boil over again.
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) September 16, 2015
Maitlis had clearly lost patience at this point, dropping any pretence of neutral impartiality.
“Except, of course, you use this question of an influx, or an invitation, or security, whereas really it comes to something much more simple with your government, doesn’t it?” she sneered.
“When you look at Viktor Orbán’s words… he’s talked of Christian Hungary and a mixed population with no sense of identity, and he’s called the people coming in potential terrorists, so this isn’t actually about immigration, is it? It’s about xenophobia,” she asserted.
“No, I have to reject that, and I take it as an insult,” Szijjártó answered firmly.
“We Hungarians, we do have the right — and no-one can take that away from us — we have the right to make our own decision [about] whom we would like to allow to enter the territory of Hungary, and who we do not allow,” he said, fighting through the BBC presenter’s attempts to interrupt him with further questions.
“I would like to answer your previous question, because that was concluded by a very serious insult against my country,” he continued.
“I always have shown respect to everyone who asks me [questions], but I expect respect — not for myself, because who cares, but for my country and for the people I represent, and calling a country xenophobic, it’s an insult… no-one can take away the right for us to decide with whom we would like to live together.
“And yes, it is our intention to keep Hungary a Hungarian country, and yes, we do not agree with those who say multiculturalism is by definition good,” he declared.
Maitlis, angry, demanded to know if Szijjártó stood by Prime Minister Orbán’s warning that illegal migrants were “potential terrorists”.
“If you allow hundreds of thousands of people to enter the territory of the European Union without control, without check, does it give the opportunity for the terrorist organisations to send their terrorists to Europe? Yes, it does,” he confirmed.
Indeed, a majority of the radical Islamic terrorists who attacked Paris in November 2015 entered or re-entered the EU among the migrant influx, passing through Hungary — which had not been able to secure its border yet — on the way.
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) September 17, 2015
Maitlis responded to the Hungarian foreign minister’s suggestion that the Hungarian voters — who re-elected his government in a super-majority landslide earlier in the year — should be respected, quoting opposition politicians who claim the country “is no longer a democracy, it is a creeping authoritarianism”.
This appeared to be the final straw for Szijjártó, who took his glaring interviewer to task: “You are unbalanced. You are one-sided. You look only at the opinion of those who are frustrated because they lost elections,” he said, fighting through more interruptions.
“The government won the third election with a constitutional majority. Why don’t we respect the decision of the people?” he asked — prompting Maitlis to launch into an astonishing, partisan rant.
“The problem with the European Union is it believes in tolerance, diversity, and human rights,” she spat out sarcastically.
“And you are rejecting them all. So maybe it isn’t for you.”
“Why do you insult a country of ten million people?” Szijjártó asked calmly.
“Because of the laws you’re introducing. They’re not my laws, they’re the laws of your government,” Maitlis shot back, gesturing angrily.
“They are not against European values,” the Hungarian replied.
“I understand that the liberal mainstream doesn’t like our laws, but we have nothing to do with them in this regard, because it is the Hungarian voters whose expectations we have to fulfil,” he added.
As a regulated, license fee-funded public service broadcaster, the BBC is supposed to be politically neutral.
Its anchors are expected to interrogate political figures robustly and to play Devil’s Advocate while doing so, but are not supposed to make declarative statements about whether a given position is right or wrong, or betray their personal biases.