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U.S. Democrats blast axing of funds for Hungaryʼs free media

A group of 22 Democrats in the U.S. Congress have signed a letter to the State Department, criticizing the Trump administration over its lenient treatment of the Hungarian government, and questioning why a plan to support independent media in Hungary with USD 700,000 was scrapped earlier, according to news site politico.eu. 

U.S. President Donald J. Trump (left), with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán (right), at the NATO summit in Brussels in July 2018 (photo by Gints Ivuskans/Shutterstock.com).

“We write to you as supporters of the Hungarian people,” the letter begins, emphasizing how Hungaryʼs EU and NATO membership “should be a demonstration of its commitment to democracy and its tenets, to include freedom of speech and freedom of the press.”

The letter goes on to strongly criticize the media policies of the Orbán government, expressing deep concern at what it describes as “the increasingly diminished space for independent journalism in Hungary.”

The letter cites a 2017 State Department Human Rights Report, which expresses concern about what it calls “a massive consolidation in the media market” starting in 2015, resulting in “further expansion of government-friendly enterprises and reduction in other media voices in radio, print, and online media, especially outside of Budapest.”

The letter goes on to cite other reports highlighting “the use of government funds to support friendly outlets, the publication of a list of journalists who are considered ‘threats’ to the Hungarian government, and its promotion of stories from Russian government mouthpieces, such as Russia Today and Sputnik.”

The letterʼs signatories note that their concerns are shared by others, referring to the approval of the Sargentini Report by the European Parliament, triggering an Article 7 procedure against Hungary.

The letter also asks the State Department for an explanation as to why a program to provide financial support to combat negative trends in the Hungarian media was cancelled earlier this year.

This is not the first time U.S. officials have expressed concern about media trends in Hungary. In October 2017, then Chargé dʼAffaires David Kostelancik heavily criticized press freedom in Hungary, saying that “the United States unequivocally condemns any attempt to intimidate or silence journalists.”

His comments elicited a strongly negative response from the Hungarian government, with Levente Magyar, minister of state at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, describing his comments as an attempt to interfere in the 2018 elections.

Earlier this year, a separate group of 22 members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives sent a letter to Ambassador to Hungary David B. Cornstein in support of the Central European University (CEU). According to a report by Hungarian news site Index on Wednesday, Cornstein is cautiously optimistic about resolving the situation of the university, which has come under repeated attack from the Hungarian government as part of its orchestrated campaigns against institutions of civil society connected with Hungarian-born investor and philanthropist George Soros.