In the past few weeks, pro-governmnent Magyar Nemzet revealed several secret recordings, which according to the paper, prove that NGOs linked to George Soros are “manipulating” international press coverage of Hungary. Some suspect secret service techniques behind the videos. Meanwhile, civil society group employees appearing on the footage have strongly rejected the claims by the pro-government paper.
As we have previously reported, pro-government daily Magyar Nemzet has recently obtained a bulk of documents, including leaked Skype interviews. In these video recordings, several former or current employees of NGOs associated with George Soros can be heard talking about the alleged double standards against Hungary.
Perhaps the most prominent figure appearing in the leaked videos is Andrej Nosko, who until 2018 used to work as a director, then head of division at the George Soros funded Open Society Foundation.
In the Skype interview, Nosko said that reports on Hungary and Poland depict a distorted image. One reason for this is a recent decline in the quality of European media, with far fewer foreign correspondents than before. Another reason is the simple reality that those working in the media are mostly leftist or liberal. This is due to what we might call ‘selection bias,’ according to Nosko.
As an example of these biases, Nosko cites how little international criticism Robert Fico received during his premiership, even though investigative journalist Ján Kuciak was killed during his government. Nosko specifically mentions the civil rights organization Freedom House, whose democracy assessment study ‘Nations in transit’ on Slovakia, he says, was effectively “an agitprop” instead of an analysis.
“Essentially whenever it’s your friends who are in the government, then the country is doing well. If it’s not your friends in the government, whatever they do, it’s just not good enough,” he said.
Another recording includes Slovak Dalibor Roháč, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, who researches political processes in Central and Eastern Europe and the EU.
The researcher explains that Viktor Orbán is not presumed innocent in Brussels and that the EU institutions would welcome the Hungarian prime minister’s downfall with a sigh of relief.
Roháč described it as “an aspect of the functioning of realpolitik,” that while Bulgaria and Romania are more dysfunctional and corrupt than Hungary, from especially the perspective of the European institutions, they’re sort of manageable in the sense that they will not veto European initiatives. Therefore, they get enough money from the Structural Funds, and even if some of it gets stolen or misused, these countries will basically do what you want them to do.”
In a later article, Magyar Nemzet reported on another leaked Skype interview, this time about a former videojournalist of liberal-leaning Hungarian news portals 24.hu and Index.hu.
In the conversation, according to Magyar Nemzet, the reporter said that during their work they receive thorough instructions about whom they are allowed to talk to, and also spoke about how they depend on NGOs.
In the leaked footage, Kálmán can be heard discussing journalists who are “trusting” of NGOs.
In a clip, he said: “Is the journalist independent enough or did he get a very good invitation to a good hotel, so how much did you offer him to write what you want to hear back from the media? No one can really control this in these cases, so it’s very hard to be transparent.”
“I was invited to Brussels and Strasbourg to report on individual events, and usually in these cases journalists were really instructed where they should go, who they can talk to,” he said.
Finally, in a further audio recording, the project manager of the George Soros funded Civil Liberties Union (TASZ) said, among other things, that although the foreign press reports that authoritarian regimes are in power in Hungary and Poland, both countries are “good places to live in.”
Orbán gov’t: Revelations proof of bias against Hungary
On behalf of the government, the state secretary for communications and international relations was the main voice commenting on the leaked audio recordings.
According to Zoltán Kovács, “Soros mercenaries” have admitted that the Hungarian government is right to complain about the bias of foreign journalists covering Hungary, NGOs critical of the government, and EU bodies.
In an interview with Magyar Nemzet, Kovács said Hungary had been on the receiving end of such distortions since 2010.
Revelation or manipulation?
According to critics of the government, however, the revelations from Magyar Nemzet are nothing more than a manipulative dirty campaign trick ahead of the upcoming general election.
In its article on the subject, Átlátszó shared some interesting information about the probable circumstances of the origin of the videos.
Two people also working in the civil sector told the paper that the people in the “exposing” videos were probably victims of a fake job advertisement, as they were themselves, and that they could have secretly recorded and edited the conversations with recruiters through fake profiles to fit the political message.
The article in Átlátszó even suggests that the source of the fragmented comments obtained by Magyar Nemzet could be the job interviews of the very same advertisers.
The paper also writes that the current revelation is similar to the so-called “Black Cube scandal” that broke out right before Hungary’s 2018 parliamentary elections. Four years ago, an Israeli company called Black Cube, partly staffed by former Israeli intelligence officers, tried to compromise the employees of several Hungarian or Hungarian-affiliated NGOs associated with George Soros (Migration Aid, Civil Liberties Union). The conversations recorded during the in-person meetings organized by Black Cube were then used by the pro-government media.
Meanwhile, Politico‘s article on the subject also reported four similar cases to the ones Átlátszó mentions in the last two years. In these cases, civil society professionals – who spoke to Politico anonymously – were approached by video call, some with donor intentions, others with a well-paid consultancy assignment.
One individual, who asked not to be identified, said that he had a video call in 2020 with someone he believed to be a “donor interested in supporting civil society.”
Selected excerpts from the chat were later “taken out of context and presented in a misleading way,” the person said. Another source talked about a “very weird” video call where the interviewer used targeted questions to get the professionals who were willing to answer to make statements, similar to the “self-exposing” ones published by Magyar Nemzet.
Comments selected and edited in a rather one-sided way
Andrei Nosko has yet to make a comment on the leaked footage. Meanwhile, Dalibor Roháč commented on the articles on his Twitter page. Roháč believes he made the quoted remarks sometime in 2020, although he cannot identify the exact conversation. However, he is certain that his comments were selected and edited in a rather one-sided way, and the way the extracts were published makes him certain that they were not done in good faith.
He maintains the view that apart from Orbán, there are other actors in Europe doing all kinds of bad things — not always receiving the scrutiny they deserve, but “none of that makes Hungary’s de-democratization, rampant corruption, and outreach to Moscow or Beijing any better.”
Mátyás Kálmán also reacted to the story by Magyar Nemzet, confirming to Telex that he indeed made the comments quoted from him during a fake job interview. In total, he had three 45 minutes of conversation, of which only a few minutes have been extracted.
Amnesty International also denied to pro-government newspaper Mandiner that the organization has been subjected to follow certain rules, manipulation, or restrictions on their foreign journalists coming to Hungary.
Featured photo illustration via Pixabay