Hungary hits out at Magyar Telekom for "discrimination" against sexist pop star

By bne IntelliNews December 17, 2015

The Hungarian cabinet has instructed ministries to cancel all contracts with Magyar Telekom, government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs announced on December 17, after the German-owned company pulled a sponsorship deal with a pop singer over extreme sexist remarks made on television.

In an interview for private Echo TV over the weekend, Akos Kovacs, one of the country’s most popular pop stars, made a series of startling statements concerning women. Known to fans simply as Akos, the 47-year-old singer said women should not necessarily earn as much as men and that they should stick to “fulfilling the female calling by belonging to someone and bearing children".

Magyar Telekom, majority owned by Deutsche Telekom, immediately withdrew a sponsorship deal with the singer, saying the remarks were incompatible with the company's diversity principles. That looked to be the wise move, as even several strongly right-wing and pro-government media outlets condemned the comments.

However, rather than join the chorus of disapproval over the views of the singer - who is known for his support of the ruling Fidesz party - the government has lashed out at the company for it's "appalling discrimination".

While it's unclear why the issue should be noticed at all in the upper levels of government, the cabinet reportedly discussed it at a meeting on December 16. “The cabinet has been appalled by Magyar Telekom’s move, and we are convinced that it is in contrary both to the spirit and letter of the Hungarian constitution,” the spokesman, who is not related to Akos, said, according to MTI.

The government considers it unacceptable that anyone can be discriminated against in Hungary today for their opinion and views, he added, before suggesting it might be OK in Germany.

Further than that, the government is cancelling its mobile internet contracts with Magyar Telekom, Kovacs stated. The custom of state institutions was earmarked by Budapest as a leg up for its plan, scrapped in late 2012, to launch a fourth mobile operator in the country. The Fidesz government has heavily taxed the three foreign owned operators since coming to power in 2010.

Meanwhile, the cabinet claims that the strategic partnership co-operation agreement with Magyar Telekom - one of a series of symbolic deals that Fidesz has been busy signing with foreign investors over the past couple of years - will not be affected. Signed in early 2014, the deal includes a pledge from Deutsche Telekom to invest €1bn over the following four years in Hungary.

Deutsche Telekom declined to comment on the rumpus. However, the local unit appeared to treat the claim of withdrawn contracts with disdain. "Magyar Telekom has live contracts with government institutions that cannot be annulled just like that. We are currently looking at our options," the company told Portfolio.hu. At the same time, the news saw shares in the company fall 1.98% by the close of trading in Budapest.

In the meantime, Magyar Telekom has announced it has agreed to sell its online media outlet origo.hu to New Wave Media for €13.2mn. The deal is in line with Magyar Telekom’s increased strategic focus on its core business and on further strengthening its free cash flow generation, the company said in a statement on its website. The transaction is expected to close in the first quarter of 2016.

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