In a recent article, Dieter Stein, a right-wing German journalist, wrote that Viktor Orbán was «the only leading politician from the European Christian Democratic family of parties who calls out the Left for the wars they wage on our culture».
This positive view of Hungary’s prime minister appeared in a magazine that conceals financial support from Orbán’s circle and the Hungarian government.
Printed in Budapest, The European Conservative receives funding from the government through a non-profit, Batthyány Lajos Foundation (BLA), according to a Hungarian watchdog and multiple media reports.
Indeed, BLA, which was founded in 1991, has grown to become an instrument for channelling donations from the Hungarian government.
According to Hungarian watchdog K-Monitor, BLA received 6.2 billion forints (€16.16 million) from the Cabinet Office of the Prime Minister in 2022, and a further 9.2bn forints (€23.98m) in January 2023.
These funds, the watchdog says, were channelled towards publications including the European Conservative, NGOs, mentoring programmes and Centre for Fundamental Rights, an organisation responsible for the international conservative event CPAC Hungary — which Stein also reported on in the article cited earlier.
Glossy publication with Orbán’s values
Edited by right-wing journalist Alvino-Mario Fantini, another vocal ally of Orbán’s, the European Conservative is published by the European Conservative Nonprofit Ltd. The nonprofit was established in November 2021, and received 1.65bn forints (€4.3m) from BLA shortly thereafter, Hungarian media revealed.
According to Pavol Szalai, the Head of the EU-Balkans Desk at Reporters Without Borders (RSF), this is a good example of the way the Hungarian government sees the media: “as a vehicle of propaganda”.
“Which means there is no such thing as independent media,” he adds, highlighting that Hungary is in the 72nd place on RSF’s World Press Freedom Index, among the last three countries from the European Union.
“There is no equivalent of such a sophisticated and wide-ranging and influential system of government-controlled information in the European Union,” Szalai adds.
Online publications supported by BLA
The European Conservative is not the only publication supported by taxpayers’ money.
According to the website of BLA, the foundation is also behind the Hungarian Conservative, and the now-inactive Hungarian Review. Both publications’ staff include John O’Sullivan, the chief of the government-sponsored think tank Danube Institute.
Not listed on the BLA’s website is ReMixNews, a website featuring news and commentary from the V4 countries, published by Budapest-based FWD Affairs LLC. ReMixNews is «funded in part by the Batthany Lajos Foundation in Budapest,» according to their website, with a typo in the spelling of the organisation.
Heavy with ads, ReMixNews boasts extensive coverage on migration, the “liberal elite” and “oligarch George Soros”, phases in line with the Hungarian government’s narrative.
It receives a rather small yearly funding for a media organisation, Márton Sarkadi Nagy, a Hungarian freelance journalist, who has written about the site in detail, says.
According to his article, based on freedom of information requests, the publisher of ReMix received 150m forints (€390,000) from BLA between 2020 and 2023.
“Which is just enough to hire four people — the ones you can see in the impressum. But as far as I’m concerned, RemixNews has never published a single article that was of interest to anyone,” he told Euronews.
Similarly connected to the Hungarian government, but separate from BLA is V4NA, a “young, independent international news agency.”
V4NA was registered in London in 2019, by Kristóf Szalay-Bobrovniczky, Hungary’s defence minister, during his embassy period in the UK. According to a Hungarian media report, shareholders include Árpád Habony, a long-time unofficial adviser to Viktor Orbán.
Despite the ambitions, V4NA never became a go-to for foreign media outlets. According to journalist Sarkadi Nagy’s findings, most hyperlinks to the site appeared in the Hungarian, Macedonian and Slovenian media. Both countries where adjacents of the Orbán-regime have a significant media presence, according to the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP).
“If you look at (V4NA), it’s hard to see it as an independent media given it’s a way for the government propaganda machine to show that there is English language news that can be quoted in the Hungarian pro-government press. It’s a way to strengthen domestic propaganda,” Szalai, from RSF, adds.
V4NA operates with relatively large sums according to their filings, yet it’s unclear where that money ends up, Sarkadi Nagy highlights.
“In that sense, it is much more impactful as an international political financial vehicle than a media product, especially in the English-language sphere,” he says.
A lot of money to little effect?
“Despite having access to an abundance of financial resources (these mediums) have limited impact,” Szalai says.
He’s more worried about the implications on the media landscape of the country.
«The independent media of Hungary even has to compete abroad in these unequal conditions with Orbán’s propaganda machine,» he said.
“If they had any impact, it was only because the international media and political sphere had understood them to be the conveyers of the Orbán government’s interests,” Sarkadi Nagy agrees. “Which isn’t too far from reality,” he adds.
Neither ReMixNews nor V4NA gathered a large following on social media, and their posts don’t seem to spark large interest either.
The European Conservative remains niche, available at some larger newsstands.
The editorial team of the Hungarian Conservative, ReMixNews and V4NA as well as the Batthyany Lajos Foundation and the Cabinet of the Hungarian Prime Minister were contacted for comment but have not yet responded to Euronews’ requests.