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Hungarian State Media Says Politico’s Claims on Listing Politically Sensitive Topics ‘Coordinated Attack’

Péter Cseresnyés 2020.03.03.

Politico published an article on Monday reporting that according to internal emails they obtained, Hungarian public media (MTVA) employees need special consent ahead of publication from their editors to cover certain topics such as migration, European terrorism, Brussels, church issues, and Greta Thunberg, while coverage of reports from leading human rights organizations are banned. In their response, MTVA talks about a coordinated attack against the state media.

State media editors are provided with “lists of sensitive topics.” Any coverage related to the issues mentioned requires staff to send draft content for approval from higher up, Politico writes.

One anonymous state media employee told the paper that journalists do not know who ultimately green-lights these articles, but when something gets rejected, senior editors sometimes euphemistically refer to it as reporting that they “fell in battle.”

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Screenshots of the internal emails were sent anonymously to Politico, all from the second half of 2019. The state media employee confirmed their authenticity to the site.

The article notes that Hungarian journalists have long raised concerns that some politically sensitive issues are absent from the news coverage of state-owned television channels and wire reports.

In reaction, MTVA released a statement saying that “fake news sites with foreign help” have launched a “coordinated attack” against the state media.

According to the statement, several Hungarian news portals (LMP-bound Azonnali, government-critical Index, and liberal 24.hu), sent questions to the state media almost simultaneously with the publication of Politico’s article.

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According to the MTVA, the purpose of the attack is to “make noise” around credible and moderate briefings, labeling it “petty revenge” for exposing the scaremongering of the “fake news sites” around the coronavirus pandemic.

MTVA portrayed their decisions on coverage as part of a regular editorial process. The question of “which issue, in which form, on what scale, and in which area of the state media” is published is a matter of editorial decision-making, “just like every other editorial office in the world,” a statement said. MTVA also stated that Hungarian state media follows the standards of the BBC, thus any kind of attack towards them is an attack on these standards.

The allegedly blacklisted Greta Thurnberg also commented on the issue on Twitter:

“Lists like these should never exist. But since they do, I guess it’s an honor to be on them… This shows the importance of democracy. Freedom of the press is non-negotiable.”

Featured photo illustration by Noémi Bruzák/MTI