(Adds quotes from Telekom, govt, Parlt speaker, artist)
By Marton Dunai and Sandor Peto
BUDAPEST, Dec 17 (Reuters) - Hungary’s government told ministries and other state institutions to cancel subscriptions with Magyar Telekom on Thursday in a row over the telecom operator’s decision to end a sponsorship deal with a pop singer over his remarks about women.
The singer, Akos Kovacs, is known to support the ruling centre-right Fidesz party. The government, which has made waves in recent days with a conservative take on gender equality, said Kovacs had been subject to unfair discrimination by Magyar Telekom, a subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom, over remarks in which he said it was not women’s role to earn as much as men.
Magyar Telekom severed links with Kovacs after the singer’s comments to private television channel Echo TV on Sunday, in which he also said that women had better “fulfil the female calling by belonging to someone, bearing a child for someone.”
Magyar Telekom said in a statement to news portal index.hu on Wednesday that the remarks were incompatible with the company’s diversity principles and it was withdrawing its sponsorship deal with Kovacs.
“Our company does not think the spirit of the artist’s interview ... is compatible with our group’s beliefs and values, Magyar Telekom said.
“Magyar Telekom is committed to ensure equal opportunities for women and men and sustain sexual equality in all circumstances.”
The controversy was discussed at a government meeting on Wednesday, government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs - no relation to the singer - told state news agency MTI on Thursday.
“The government was shocked to learn about Telekom’s action, which we believe violates both the spirit and letter of the Hungarian constitution,” Zoltan Kovacs told MTI.
“It might be possible in Germany but we cannot accept anyone to suffer discrimination for his opinion and views.”
Zoltan Kovacs said the review of contracts with Magyar Telekom was under way, adding that the termination of 103 contracts at one ministry had already been initiated. The cancellation would not affect a strategic 1 billion euro cooperation agreement with Magyar Telekom, he added.
Senior Fidesz officials have made controversial comments about gender equality in recent days. Fidesz elder statesman and Parliament speaker Laszlo Kover told the party’s congress on Sunday that as a community, Fidesz wanted none of what he called “gender madness.”
“We don’t want to turn Hungary into a futureless society of man-hating women and woman-fearing, feminine men who only see children and families as an obstacle to self-fulfilment,” he said to wild applause.
“We wish that our daughters considered bearing grandchildren for us to be the highest quality of self-fulfilment.”
The interview with Akos Kovacs, the singer, was aired hours after Kover’s speech. Asked what his problem was with gender equality, Kovacs said:
“It leads to there being female weightlifting, to put it in stark terms. Who benefits, I don’t know and I would not want to say. I don’t like that. It’s not the job of women to make the same amount of money that men do. That’s how I feel.” (Reporting by Marton Dunai and Sandor Peto; editing by Jason Neely and Susan Fenton)