An 80-second video posted on the Hungarian government’s Facebook and Twitter accounts on 7 July shows Orbán visiting a newsstand. “I came here because they put Hungary on some sort of list about the enemies of press freedom,” he tells the news vendor. He then mentions “some sort of organisation that belongs to Uncle George Soros,” referring to the Hungarian-born American billionaire philanthropist who Orbán has repeatedly blamed for all of Hungary’s evils.
As the supposedly spontaneous conversion continues, Orbán asks the vendor how many newspapers he has sold that are “critical of the government.” The vendor hands him copies of several independent weeklies, including HVG, 168 Ora and Magyar Narancs, and says none of his clients have bought them for several weeks.
The video ends with Orbán commenting ironically: “Press freedom must be in a really miserable state if they bad-mouth us only in these newspapers.” He then takes the irony even further by buying a copy of Népszava, an independent daily that was recently fined and forced to apologise for publishing a cartoon critical of the government’s handling of the Covid-19 epidemic.
“You may joke and stage a laughable response, Prime Minister, but your policy of persecuting journalism is now being taken very seriously in European capitals and elsewhere,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “Irony and derision will not suffice for you to make people forget the scale of the destruction of independent media in Hungary and the heavy toll it is taking on the country’s image. For the rest, I assure you that RSF is an independent organisation that will never cease, in accordance with its values, to support press freedom throughout the world.”
RSF’s 2021 “Press freedom predators” gallery has the portraits of a total of 37 heads of state or government who trample on press freedom by creating a censorship apparatus, jailing journalists arbitrarily or inciting violence against them – when they don’t have blood on their hands because they have directly or indirectly pushed for journalists to be murdered.
Orbán’s “predatory method” is marked by attacks designed to discredit the media, the creation of a climate that drives journalists to censor themselves and the use of political and economic manoeuvres and the purchase of media companies by oligarchs close to the ruling Fidesz party, as a result of which Fidesz now controls 80 per cent of the country’s media landscape.
The system is headed by the Kesma foundation, which alone owns approximately 500 pro-government media outlets. The few remaining independent media are discriminated against in the allocation of state advertising and access to official information, while their journalists are systematically denigrated.
Since Orbán’s return to power as prime minister in 2010, Hungary has fallen 69 places in RSF's World Press Freedom Index and is now ranked 92nd out of 180 countries.