On Thursday, Direkt36 published an article about Hungarian diplomats regularly monitoring the activities of foreign newspapers reporting on the Orbán government's affairs, gathering information on the travels of independent Hungarian journalists, and actively facilitating the visits of people linked to the pro-government media.
This is evidenced by cables sent to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, obtained with the help of the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (TASZ) during public interest litigation.
But how did we get here?
In the autumn of 2020, it emerged that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was attempting to have lists made of journalists traveling abroad. With the help of Telex , a letter was made public in which the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFA) instructed Hungarian embassies in the European Union to check whether the host country had organized professional visits, training courses or study trips for Hungarian journalists in recent years, and if so, "which Hungarian media representatives had taken part and which newspapers and organizations in the host country had been visited" .
State Secretary Tamás Menczer later admitted that he had given the order, telling ATV: "I was just curious, because my job at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is to deal with political issues, and I consider it a political issue that George Soros is funding media courses for left-wing journalists (...) Some Soros organizations, such as Transparency International, organize such sensitisation courses."
And this is where Nyugat.hu comes into the picture. As in previous years and since then, in 2019 we participated in the investigative journalist mentoring program of Transparency International Hungary, which fights against corruption and for press freedom. The essence of this program is that an experienced journalist takes on a young person interested in the profession or a young person just starting out and together they write a serious, fact-finding article.
The mentor from Nyugat was Antal Józing, and his protege was Bianka Czömpöl, and their article was about the 6 billion euro state football academy being built on the border of Szombathely and Sé, which, as it turned out, was not coincidentally located next to the privately owned Illés Academy. Although it was not mentioned in the government and professional materials, those involved in football in the city took it for granted from the start that the new academy would be an extension of the Illés Academy.
This line of thinking was eventually confirmed by the National Sports Centres, which in 2016 launched a tender for the lease of the post-school training centre in Western Hungary, which was won by the Illés Sports Foundation in a not very competitive bidding process: they were the only bidders. As we have learned, the rent will be a whopping 400,000 forints (860 GBP) per month. (You can read the full article here, Mi épül ott a síkon távolban? – Állami pénzből magán fociakadémia Szombathelyen 2019. October 20. 18:19 and you can read the sequel here Megtudtuk, mennyiért bérli majd az Illés Akadémia az új szombathelyi fociakadémiát 2019. November 05. 09:03 .)
The article received a lot of positive feedback and the four-member jury declared it the best, making Nyugat the winner of the mentoring programme in 2019 Büszkén jelentjük - Országos fődíjat nyert a Nyugat tényfeltáró cikke 2019. November 14. 14:59 , and the first media outlet in the countryside to do so. The closing ceremony was held at the Residence of the Embassy of Finland, and before the coronavirus hit, the five young mentors were able to travel to Helsinki, courtesy of the Embassy.
Thus, as Direkt36 reports , in December 2019, five young Hungarian journalists and students interested in journalism took photos with Moomin's fairy-tale characters at the Finnish Public Media building, where they discussed, among other things, the differences between the situation of Finnish and Hungarian journalism.
They visited a Christmas fair, a media museum, a library and the offices of the Finnish daily Helsingin Sanomat. A good number of the young people had little experience in journalism, and most of them were not working as journalists at the time.
"Finland is a place where it is really good to be a journalist," said one of them , describing the three-day trip, which was the subject of several articles and photos posted online. The trip was no secret.
Except that there was another account of the same trip. The Hungarian youngsters were also closely followed at the Hungarian Embassy in Helsinki, in response to a request from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The diplomatic cable sent by the Hungarian ambassador to Finland to Budapest on 3 June 2020 lists in detail where the young students went, and even notes that they met a Finnish doctoral student who "is generally critical of the Hungarian government".
Here is the full report, by the end of which even our article has been included for reference:
Based on the cables (which are all available here) , it appears that the information contained in them was gathered by Orbán government diplomats from social media profiles of journalists or online reports, among other sources. At the same time, diplomatic missions of several Western European countries have reported that Hungarian diplomats have personally asked them about programs organized for Hungarian journalists.
"Their enquiries were informal and we did not have any information about their underlying intentions," said an official from the mission of one Western European country. "If we had known the broader context of this at the time, we would probably have raised our concerns through the appropriate channels," the official added.
According to Emese Pásztor, political liberties project manager at TASZ, which provided legal assistance in obtaining the documents, "the court case has shed light on how the machinery of discrediting journalists works - how government officials gain ammunition for personal attacks on journalists while publicly trying to stigmatize independent journalism as a national security risk" .