Hungary Accuses U.S. of Interfering in Domestic Affairs
Hungary’s Minister of Foreign Affairs accused the United States government of interfering in his country’s domestic affairs and upcoming election by planning to fund “objective media in Hungary.”
On Monday the United States said that it would give $700,000 to support rural media outlets in Hungary. The intent of the program is to “train and equip journalists in defense of an independent media it sees subject to growing pressure and intimidation.” The plan is not only to improve the quality of local traditional and online media, but also to make reliable and unbiased news more accessible to the Hungarian public.
The U.S. has been concerned about Hungary’s government’s increased control over the media. The U.S. sees the decline in the number of independent news outlets and the government’s overarching influence over media as a potential threat to the freedom of press in Hungary.
In recent years, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has tightened government control over the media and has given his close business associates control over mainstream media outlets. In October 2016, the daily leftist newspaper, Népszabadság, was shut down due to economic factors according to Fidesz, while the opposition claimed that the move was a “serious attack on press freedom and democracy.”
Today, the majority of newspapers published outside the capital are managed by pro-Fidesz publishers; a few of whom even have their own television and radio stations. Regional media plays an important role in advancing pro-Fidesz agenda.
As elections in Hungary are approaching many Western nations fear the overarching power that Fidesz has over the media. According to Index, more than four million potential voters will be reached through various regional newspapers, all of which are backed by Fidesz supporters.
In response to the U.S. funded project, Tamás Menczer, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that Hungary sees the program as a “political intervention by the U.S. Department of State ahead of the elections.” However, elections will be held in April 2018, while the U.S. project is to be launched between May and July of 2018 (after the elections). The program will offer “technical and financial assistance to media outlets, as well as increased local and international exposure”.
This U.S. led initiative is controversial and has been received with outrage by the Hungarian government.