Hungary’s illiberal leader Viktor Orban has become the first EU leader to be included in the Reporters Without Borders' (RSF) list of 37 heads of state or government who crack down massively on press freedom.
Among members of the so-called "press freedom predators", the French-based NGO names Russian President Vladimir Putin, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko or Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan amongst other hardline leaders.
New entrants include self-proclaimed champion of "illiberal democracy" Viktor Orban, who has not stopped attacking media pluralism and independence since his return to power in 2010.
State media has become a propaganda tool for the government and privately owned media have been either subjugated or silenced.
"The methods may be subtle or brazen, but they are always effective. Thanks to politico-economic manoeuvres and media companies bought by oligarchs close to the ruling party, Fidesz now controls 80% of the country's media space," RSF said.
The Central European Press and Media Foundation (KESMA) established in 2018 controls 500 pro-government media outlets and operates with vast financial resources from state funding, while independent media is struggling to live off the market due to discrimination in financing. Their journalists are systematically denigrated by the pro-government media, which describe them as purveyors of 'fake news'.
The NGO also listed the major media outlets forced to close down in the previous years.
The Hungarian Media Council damaged media pluralism because of its political decisions, which included taking away the frequency of the last independent talks show radio Klubradio.
The organization considers the government’s takeover of Index.hu to be the most "spectacular development in 2020."
According to the NGO, the emergency powers given to Fidesz to handle the pandemic allowed it to threaten journalists with prosecution for spreading fake news and “blocking the government’s anti-pandemic efforts”.
After state-of-emergency rules were approved in the spring of 2020 giving the prime minister unlimited powers, decrees passed in parliament threatened journalists with prosecution on charges of disseminating fake news and "blocking the government’s anti-pandemic efforts".
In May 2020 two private persons were detained on charges of spreading fake news after sharing a Facebook post critical of the government, including a local opposition leader living with a disability.
Under the pretext of emergency power regulations, the government also posed additional curbs on already limited access of the press to state-held information, extending deadlines for state bodies to release data.
Hungary has slipped three notches to 92nd out of 180 countries in the latest Reporters Without Borders (RSF) World Press Freedom Index published in April. Among EU states media freedom was only worse in Bulgaria. Since 2013 Hungary has slid 36 places, and it now lags behind countries like Albania, Moldavia or Lesotho.
The government dismissed the criticism, saying that RSF is a "[George] Soros-funded group" that serves the interest of the opposition.