Following a recent visit to Hungary, seven press watchdog organisations have come to the conclusion that the Hungarian government’s control over the media has reached an “unprecedented state for the European Union.”
According to the statement, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government has systematically destroyed the country’s media independence and pluralism and has used state organs to intimidate and divide the journalist community over the past 10 years.
EU leaders are expected to discuss possible actions against Hungary for Orban’s attacks on key European democratic norms.
The watchdog specifically mentioned that Orban’s government has forcibly silenced nearly all of Hungary’s press outlets that have been or are critical of his government “through the deliberate manipulation of the media market”. The report when on to say that the cultivation of an overtly pro-government media empire that has evolved into “a vast propaganda machine for Orban”, while adding that independent journalists are “routinely denied access to publicly held information without explanation and excluded from official events. Public officials connected to the ruling party largely refuse communication and interviews with independent media”.
Although a small number of independent media continue to exist in Hungary, they are under constant threat and in many cases suffer from a lack of financial resources. Press freedom organisations have in the past repeatedly called on the EU to take measures that would put pressure Orban and his government.
“The inactions of the European Union have failed to prevent a member state (Hungary) from openly and obviously undermining the media as a fully functioning element of democracy,” the report said.
In an interview with the media watchdog delegation, the Hungarian government’s international spokesperson, Zoltan Kovacs, denied that media freedom is under threat in Hungary and claimed that independent journalists work freely and without harassment from the state authorities.
The ruling parties of both Hungary and Poland have come under heavy criticism for tightening their control over the media, academia, courts, and other democratic institutions. In response, the European Parliament launched a so-called Article 7, legal process against both nations.