News Brief

Hungary’s latest news site spreads pro-Orban messages in English

In Hungary’s smoke-and-mirrors world of press freedom, a mysterious new player has emerged.

A London-based Hungarian news site called V4NA launched Monday with an editorial line that matches many of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s favorite disinformation narratives.

Scroll down the homepage and the reader is met by headlines such as “Migrant kills wife after she converts to Christianity,” “A new refugee wave to threaten Europe,” and “Christian culture is the source of all power.”

The project appears to be a continuation of the Orban government’s long campaign to convince Hungarians the country is being swarmed by a tide of migrants, when in reality Hungary accepts as few as two asylum seekers per day, according to research carried out by NGOs in 2018.

V4NA was registered in London in December 2018 by Balazs Medvczky, the director of Duna TV, which is a Hungarian state channel founded in 2015 as part of Orban’s newly merged set of public broadcasters. A report by Freedom House, a United States NGO, called the broadcasters Orban’s “propaganda machines.”

In March, 40% of the company was acquired by Arpad Habony, Victor Orban’s top spin doctor, through his political consulting firm, Danube. And 57% of the company was then bought up by New Wave Media group, part of Orban’s media empire owned by his Fidesz party allies.

Unlike most of the pro-Orban Hungarian-language media that dominate news coverage at home, V4NA is spreading views sanctioned by top Hungarian government officials in English.

According to the company’s website, V4NA has a team of 50 journalists working from its London headquarters. But there are few clues to the ownership on the news site itself. Almost all the content is inaccessible except to registered users.

The new content provider has been set up amid the decimation of Hungary’s independent media in the wake of a restrictive 2011 media law. The law created a new communications body with wide-ranging powers to regulate the press, including heavy fines for publishing “imbalanced news coverage” or running content violating “public morality.”

In February, the European Commission published “Facts Matter”, a leaflet condemning the Hungarian government’s widespread disinformation campaign about EU issues. The report said that Orban’s state-run campaigns “distorts the truth and seeks to paint a dark picture of a secret plot to drive more migration to Europe.”

In a report published by the German publication De Zeit this week a Hungarian academic, writing under a pseudonym, describes how the EU has become “a silent onlooker to the perverse freakshow of the destruction of the Hungarian press, the silencing of dissent, the monopolization of public opinion and the dissemination of state-sponsored fake news.”