Hungarian investigative outlet Atlatszo has been the target of pro-government media attacks since it recently revealed links between members of the Hungarian elite, including Orban, and a luxury yacht and private jet, the outlet said Tuesday.
Atlatszo accused government-aligned media of unifying against their work and spreading a message that the outlet is against Hungarian interests and a puppet of billionaire philanthropist George Soros, a frequent target of Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government.
“We are surprised,” said Atlatszo journalist Anita Komuves.“We did not expect such a big impact and backlash.”
“The usual way of how the government and pro-government media reacts is to keep silent and not say anything and that didn’t happen,” she told OCCRP [Atlatszo is a partner of OCCRP]. Instead, “they jumped on it and started to react.”
“It’s not what they [the government] usually do.”
The investigation forced Orban’s Fidesz-backed government to release a statement through the PM’s spokesperson Bertalan Havasi. He said, according to Atlatszo, it was businessman Istvan Garancsi that invited Orban to fly to Bulgaria on the private jet. Garancsi’s company Market Zrt. has been winning government contracts worth millions of US dollars.
After, Atlatszo says, stories came out of the media that the outlet was a “Soros-puppet” and had been “promoting migration.” They also accused Atlatszo of bias against Orban’s government.
News site Origo.hu published its first story against Atlatszo shortly after the investigation of the yacht and jet was released. It’s headline read “George Soros is using drones to have people close to the government watched.” Several other stories attacking the outlet followed.
It was in the follow up stories that Atlatszo noticed other pro-government outlets were citing the Origo stories. These outlets, Atlatszo says, essentially ran the same story featuring Origo’s piece or comments made by conservative political analyst Agoston Samuel Mraz on the news station Hir TV. Different variations of the attacks happened in the following days.
While these were churning in Hungarian media, officials attempted to explain both the use of the jet and the Orban-connected elites’ use of the yacht.
At first, Atlatszo reports, Fidesz officials said the trip on the jet was a gift from Garancsi, though the outlet points out that that law restricts the gifts that can be given to and accepted by politicians. Soon after officials described the flight as a gift, Fidesz spokesperson Istvan Hollik said that it actually was “not a gift.”
The outlet describes the comments about the situation that Orban himself made as a “thinly veiled threat to journalists.”
’We are not scared,” Orban declared, according to the Atlatszo. “There are countries in Europe, I will not name them, where politicians are scared to represent the opinion of the majority of the people.”
“This is not us, and if we are attacked, everyone can be sure that we will answer with the appropriate weight, and not only because it is in our own interest, even though we are also human beings. We are not just answering the attacks to protect our honor – though that is important as well – but for the sake of the entire country.”
He added: “…we do not unnecessarily criticize anyone, we do not want to tell people what to do or how to live their lives, what decisions to make. But, when someone wants to do this to us, then we will protect our independence and the Hungarian way of thinking.”
The final attack, Atlatszo says, came Friday when Origo published a piece “The editor-in-chief of Soros-website Atlatszo is thanking Sargentini in Brussels,” accusing Atlatszo’s Tamas Bodoky of flying to Brussels to give “thanks” to Judith Sargentini, a Dutch Member of the European Parliament who drafted a report for the EP citing alleged corruption and human rights abuses the Hungarian government supposedly committed.
Sargentini’s report pushed the European Parliament to consider applying Article 7 against Hungary, which means taking the country’s voting rights away. The body voted in favor of triggering it in early September.
The Origo article calls the Sargentini report as “the fake Soros-Sargentini report.” It further states “if you doubted that Atlatszo was watching Hungarians considered enemies by the orders of Soros, then, looking at this picture you will have no more doubts.”
For it to have mattered this much that both the government and pro-government media are involved to work to slander the outlet Atlatszo had to be on to something, Komuves suspects. Not very often will these forces go after a story, she says. Usually the tactic is to let the story disappear and fall off of people’s radar.
“They are keeping involved and up on the agenda, it means that we really did find something important,” Komuves said. “Ninety-nine percent of the time they ignore you and the story. For that one percent, it is so painful for them that they hit back.”
Though Komuves said it’s impossible to know how the average Hungarian is understanding the story, she says that there has been an impact. Komuves says a representative poll taken found that half of the country has not heard about the story but 46% have.
But regardless of the numbers, at the end of the day Orban and his aligned media seem to be concerned over what the investigation uncovered or over what could be uncovered in the future.
“All we can say is that the government believes it could have an impact,” Komuves said.
The article was republished from the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) with permission.