Viktor Orbán’s government is linked to funding several right-wing publications in English. But did they have an impact?
In a recent article, Dieter Stein, a right-wing German journalist, wrote that Viktor Orbán was “the only leading politician in the European Christian Democratic party family who denounces the left for the wars it is waging against our culture “.
This positive vision of the Hungarian Prime Minister appeared in a magazine which conceals the financial support of Orbán’s entourage and the Hungarian government.
Printed in Budapest, The European Conservative receives government funding through a non-profit organization, the Batthyány Lajos Foundation (BLA), according to a Hungarian watchdog and several media outlets.
Indeed, BLA, founded in 1991, has become an instrument for channeling donations from the Hungarian government.
According to Hungarian K-Monitor watchdog, BLA received 6.2 billion forints (16.16 million euros) from the Prime Minister’s Office in 2022, and an additional 9.2 billion forints (23.98 million euros) in January 2023.
These funds, according to the watchdog, were channeled to publications such as the European Conservative, NGOs, mentoring programs and the Center for Fundamental Rights, an organization responsible for the international conservative event CPAC Hungary – whose Stein also spoke in the article cited above.
Glossy publication with Orbán’s values
Edited by right-wing journalist Alvino-Mario Fantini, another vocal ally of OrbánEuropean Conservative is published by European Conservative Nonprofit Ltd. The non-profit organization was created in November 2021and received 1.65 billion forints (4.3 million euros) from BLA shortly after, Hungarian the media revealed.
According to Pavol Szalai, head of the EU-Balkans office of Reporters Without Borders (RSF), this is a good example of how the Hungarian government views the media: “as a propaganda vehicle.”
“Which means that there are no independent media,” he adds, pointing out that Hungary occupies 72nd place in the RSF world press rankings. Freedom indexamong the bottom three countries of the European Union.
“There is no equivalent in the European Union to such a sophisticated, large and influential government-controlled information system,” Szalai adds.
Online publications supported by BLA
The European Conservative is not the only publication funded by taxpayers’ money.
According to the BLA website, the foundation also supports the Hungarian Conservative Party and the now inactive Hungarian Review. The team at both publications includes John O’Sullivan, director of the government think tank the Danube Institute.
ReMixNews, a website featuring news and commentary from V4 countries, published by Budapest-based FWD Affairs LLC, is not listed on the BLA website. ReMixNews is “funded in part by the Batthany Lajos Foundation of Budapest,” according to their website, with a typo in the spelling of the organization.
Stuffed with advertisements, ReMixNews offers extensive coverage of migration, the “liberal elite” and “oligarch George Soros”, phases which align with the Hungarian government’s discourse.
It receives rather modest annual funding for a media organization, says Márton Sarkadi Nagy, a Hungarian freelance journalist who has written in detail about the site.
According to his articlebased on access to information requests, ReMix’s publisher received 150 million forints (€390,000) from BLA between 2020 and 2023.
“Which is just enough to hire four people – the ones you can see in the print. But as far as I’m concerned, RemixNews has never published a single article that might be of interest to anyone,” he told Euronews.
V4NA, a “young independent international news agency”, is also linked to the Hungarian government, but separate from BLA.
V4NA was recorded in London in 2019 by Kristóf Szalay-Bobrovniczky, Hungarian Minister of Defense, during his embassy period in the United Kingdom. According to a Hungarian media report, shareholders include Árpád Habony, a longtime unofficial advisor to Viktor Orbán.
Despite its ambitions, V4NA has never become a reference for foreign media. According to the findings of journalist Sarkadi Nagy, most of the hyperlinks to the site appeared in Hungarian, Macedonian and Slovenian media. The two countries bordering the Orbán regime have a significant media presence, according to the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP).
“If you look at (V4NA), it is difficult to consider it an independent media given that it is a way for the government propaganda machine to show that there is information in English that can be cited in the pro press -Hungarian government. “It’s a way of strengthening domestic propaganda,” adds Szalai of RSF.
V4NA works with relatively large sums according to their documents, we do not yet know where this money ends up, underlines Sarkadi Nagy.
“In that sense, it has much more impact as an international financial policy vehicle than as a media product, particularly in the English-speaking sphere,” he says.
A lot of money for little effect?
“Despite having access to an abundance of financial resources, these media outlets have limited impact,” says Szalai.
He is more concerned about the implications for the country’s media landscape.
“Hungary’s independent media must even compete abroad in these unequal conditions with Orbán’s propaganda machine,” he said.
“If they had an impact, it is only because the media and the international political sphere understood them as vectors of the interests of the Orbán government,” recognizes Sarkadi Nagy. “Which is not far from reality,” he adds.
Neither ReMixNews nor V4NA have amassed a large following on social media, nor do their posts appear to generate much interest.
The European Conservative remains niche, available at some larger newsstands.
The editorial staff of the Hungarian Conservative, ReMixNews and V4NA as well as the Batthyany Lajos Foundation and the Hungarian Prime Minister’s Office have been contacted for comment but have not yet responded to Euronews’ requests.