BUDAPEST, Hungary – The top U.S. diplomat in Hungary raised concerns on Tuesday about the dwindling numbers of independent media outlets in Hungary and the growing influence of government allies in the media market.
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David Kostelancik, the charge d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy, said that while there is independent media in Hungary, the publications “face pressure and intimidation.”
“Government allies have steadily acquired control and influence over the media market without objection from the regulatory body designed to prevent monopolies,” Kostelancik said in a speech at the Hungarian Association of Journalists. “Negative trends in the sphere of press freedom in Hungary … are continuing.”
He also said that journalists at publications run by allies of Prime Minister Viktor Orban weren’t able to publish articles critical of the government and mentioned how the government uses publicly-funded ads to support pro-government media while placing few ads in independent outlets.
Kostelancik also criticized the publication of a list of journalists working for foreign publications who were branded by pro-Orban media as “propagandists” of Hungarian-America financier George Soros, whom Orban considers as one his main ideological foes.
“These media outlets have every right to criticize or disagree with the reporting of other journalists, but to attempt to intimidate them and make their work dangerous is inconsistent with international pledges to safeguard free media,” he said. “The United States unequivocally condemns any attempt to intimidate or silence journalists.”
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The diplomat also addressed President Donald Trump’s often adversarial relationship with journalists.
“My president is not shy about criticizing the media when he believes reporters get it wrong or show bias, and he is forthright in sharing his own perspective and advocating for the policies he supports,” Kostelancik said. “He criticizes news he believes is biased or inaccurate in order to try to change the narrative.”
“In the finest traditions of our free press, those on the receiving end of his criticism are quick to respond and make their argument about why they think the president is wrong,” he continued. “As they often point out, not every criticism of the government is ‘fake news.'”
Orban recently said that media outlets supposedly under the influence of Soros and the leadership of the European Union were among his party’s main opponents before next year’s elections.
Last year’s abrupt closure of the left-leaning Nepszabadsag daily newspaper, the ownership by pro-Orban businessmen of nearly all major daily newspapers published outside Budapest and the increasing difficulties faced by journalists seeking to access public information at state agencies have also raised concerns.
Government officials, including Orban, routinely refuse to speak to media they don’t consider loyal.