Sunday

15th Sep 2019

Letter

Right of reply from the Hungarian government

  • The Hungarian parliament in Budapest. Viktor Orban has been prime minister since 2010, and before that from 1998-2002 (Photo: Wikimedia)

Dear Editor

According to the opinion piece published by the EUobserver June 6, the Orban government is waging a concerted effort to capture the media.

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"Media capture," claims Harlan Mandel, "is when governments and business interests collude to control and manipulate the flow of information."

The "spiritual home" of this phenomenon is, of course, Hungary, but it's spreading its "tentacles into new territories," Mandel warns.

He draws a dramatic picture indeed, but it leaves out some rather important details that I would like your readers to know.

Mandel's "media capture" nightmare is revealed in a report published by the Media Development Investment Fund, a New York-based organisation where he is the CEO. MDIF has received at least $16.5m from George Soros.

The fund's previous directors and several of its board members over the years come from the Soros-funded Open Society circles. The MDIF is born of Soros funding and is very much part of the Soros world.

What does that mean in practical terms? In Hungary, for example, MDIF funds exclusively left-liberal media outlets. It has financed Magyar Narancs and 444.hu, both staunch critics of conservative governments and causes. They are free to do so, of course, but let's not pretend that the MDIF, as an investor in media, is somehow a neutral, value-free player on these media markets. The MDIF is an investor with a political agenda.

Any reasonable person reviewing a list of media enterprises that the MDIF has invested in would see a distinct pattern: left-liberal media that conform with the Soros, Open Society world view. Some might even argue that it's a clear case of special interests that "collude to control and manipulate the flow of information."

They're not the only special interests in this media game, of course. The Bertelsmann Foundation differs from the MDIF, but the overarching goal, as Politico Europe reported in May, is similar: "message control" to the extent that the foundation, according to Politico, has the commission "tacitly allying itself with the corporate interests of the media giant that bankrolls it."

Secondly, the Hungarian media landscape is still far more colourful than Mandel would have you believe. The MDIF CEO claims that dissenting voices are being silenced but, the biggest television audience share by far belongs to RTL Klub – and 71 percent of Hungarians get their info from television.

RTL Klub could hardly be considered a government mouthpiece, and week after week, at least four out of the top five TV programs belong to RTL Klub.

Furthermore, some 35 percent of Hungarians get their news and information from the Internet. Who has the biggest online audience? Index.hu, a news platform staunchly critical of the Orban government that is also the most popular Hungarian site on the internet.

Among the top 100 Hungarian websites, according to the DKT council that measures audience share, media that could be considered as having conservative leanings and sympathetic to the government garner approximately 1.7m pageviews daily. Online, liberal media critical of the government pull in 3.5m per day – more than double.

That's hardly a captured media.

Thirdly, he has his facts wrong on the media law. Not long after the Orban government took office in 2010, parliament indeed passed a new media law. The law, however, has been amended several times, following negotiations with EU institutions, and is completely congruent with European norms.

But when you're in the business of financing liberal media, as Mandel is, you've got to make your sales pitch, and that's precisely what he does with this opinion piece, closing with a not-so-subtle appeal to new investors.

Author bio

Dr Zoltan Kovacs is state secretary for international communication in the cabinet office of the prime minister of Hungary.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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MDIF responds to Orban criticism

In his response, Dr Zoltan Kovacs does not even try to refute my main point about Hungary: that most Hungarian news media have been captured by the state, and that this anti-democratic trend is spreading across Eastern Europe.

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