MTV: Europe Music Awards to counter Hungary’s anti-gay laws

The MTV Europe Music Awards will be held Nov. 14 in Hungary, the network said Tuesday, reaffirming and defending the location despite the country’s recent passage of legislation widely condemned as anti-LGBTQ.

The ceremony is an opportunity to make a stand for gay and trans civil rights worldwide in the central European nation that has moved to curtail them, said Chris McCarthy, president and CEO of MTV Entertainment Group Worldwide.

“We’re looking forward to using the event to amplify our voices and stand in solidarity with our LGBTQ siblings,” McCarthy said in an interview with The Associated Press.

No government censorship of the telecast will be tolerated, McCarthy said.

“We’ve made it very clear and we have from the beginning…. we do not allow editorial input as it relates to the artists” and the content we create, he said. “That’s always a condition regardless of whatever country we go into.”

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s conservative ruling party introduced the measure that on its face was aimed at fighting pedophilia. Amendments ban the representation of any orientation besides heterosexual, along with gender change information in school sex education programs, or in films and advertisements aimed at anyone under 18.

Human rights groups strongly denounced the measure passed in June, saying it wrongly links gays with pedophilia and is intended as a a tool that could be used to stigmatize and harass residents because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. A majority of European Union leaders said it goes against the EU’s values and that discrimination must not be tolerated in the 27-nation bloc.

In 2020, Hungarian lawmakers approved legislation banning the legal recognition of transgender citizens.

MTV, which made a deal two years ago to hold the show in the nation’s capital, Budapest, planned to issue a lengthy memo to staffers in apparent anticipation of possible criticism of its decision.

“This may surprise anyone who knows that in June of this year, Hungary passed anti-LGBTQ+ legislation banning television content featuring gay people during the day and in primetime,” allowing it only to run overnight, McCarthy said in the memo.

McCarthy said his immediate and personal reaction to the law, as a gay man, was to move the event to another country. But after consulting within MTV and with LGBTQ advocates globally, including in Hungary, the decision “was very clear to us.”

“Instead, we should move forward, using the show as an opportunity to stand in solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community in Hungary and around the world as we continue to fight for equality for all,” he said in the memo.

MTV’s pre-emptive outreach comes amid backlash by some Netflix staffers to the streaming service’s handling of a Dave Chappelle stand-up special, “The Closer,” which includes derogatory comments about trans people. Netflix has declined to remove the program.

As a gay youngster in a Pennsylvania steel mill town in the 1990s, McCarthy said he felt isolated and alone until he saw LGBTQ characters on TV, including Pedro Zamora on MTV’s “The Real World.”

“I started to think, ‘this might be OK,’” he told the AP, and said it’s alarming to imagine a young person deprived of the same opportunity because of Hungary’s TV restrictions.

The Europe Music Awards, known as the EMAs for short, will honor young LGBTQ activists with MTV’s Generation Change Award, to be given in partnership with the activist group All Out to amplify its worldwide campaigns for equality, McCarthy said.

Proceeding with the EMAs in Hungary is “absolutely the right decision,” given the nation’s “concerted onslaught” on LGBTQ rights and scapegoating of minorities, said Matt Beard, executive director of All Out. 

Such visibility “gives fuel to LGBT-plus communities living in Hungary an incredibly precious sense of international solidarity that comes from a big global media event like the EMAs,” Beard said.

In a September interview with the AP, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said the new law is intended to protect children from pedophiles and ”homosexual propaganda.” An EU decision to delay billions in economic recovery funds earmarked for his country amounted to “blackmail,” he said.

The MTV EMAs were launched in 1994 with a ceremony in Berlin hosted by Tom Jones. The awards have since hopscotched among nations, including France, England, Sweden, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands.

The host, nominees, and performers for this year’s ceremony have yet to be announced. The 2020 event was held virtually because of the pandemic.