An investigation by the Hungarian Service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty showed how editors at Hungary’s state-owned broadcast group told reporters how to cover certain stories, apparently with an eye to pleasing the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
Through leaked audio recordings, journalists’ testimony, and internal emails, the RFE/RL team found evidence that reporters at MTVA were instructed to take a critical stance in reporting on migrants, LGBT issues, climate change, and other issues that Orban opposed.
The MTVA broadcast group includes television channels, the MTI news wire, and radio stations.
Leaked MTVA e-mails also showed that coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic came under strict guidelines to make Hungary’s handling of the virus stand out internationally.
“The purpose of the whole theater is to make it seem as though we don’t have as much trouble as anywhere else,” editor Miklos Beregnyei wrote in an internal directive on virus coverage that RFE/RL obtained.
RFE/RL’s coverage attracted some 70,000 visitors to szabadeuropa.hu and was picked up by independent news sites, AFP, Yahoo News, and the biggest commercial TV station (RTL Klub) in Hungary. The National Association of Hungarian Journalists called it an “unprecedented media scandal” and several politicians have reacted and plan to go to court to demand the resignation of the MTVA head, RFE/RL said.
RFE/RL’s Hungarian Service closed after the Cold War ended but was relaunched in September in response to the country’s steep decline in media freedom.