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Zoltán Kovács: Look who’s talking about the “spread of disinformation” ǀ View

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“Democratically-elected leaders are increasingly fueling the spread of disinformation,” write Sohini Chatterjee and Péter Krekó in an opinion piece published by Euronews, including Hungary as one of their examples. While there may indeed be some countries on this planet where this claim would square with reality, Hungary is not one of them.

And it’s not one of them for a specific reason: in the last decade, and particularly during the last couple of months since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, Hungary has been combating disinformation with hard facts, not spreading it. Meanwhile, Krekó and his fellow “experts” claim that Hungary is guilty of “state-sponsored disinformation.” However, they are engaged in more than a little disinformation of their own.

Krekó and Chatterjee claim, for example, that “Viktor Orbán has created the most centralised media empire ever within the European Union.” Interestingly, the very same notion appeared in an “independent country ranking” in April, financed by Bertelsmann Stiftung and drafted by an “independent network of country experts.” A closer look at the list of regional experts, however, revealed that out of 10 Hungarians, nine are from Political Capital — a leftist, liberal think tank based in Budapest.

This alleged state-sponsored disinformation in Western democracies is, Krekó and his co-author claim, “the elephant in the room.” The real elephant in the room is that people like Krekó continue to pass themselves off as independent experts on Hungary when in fact they are driving a political agenda and engaging in some serious misinformation themselves.
Zoltán Kovács
International spokesperson for the Cabinet Office of Hungarian prime minister

As the seasoned reader has probably already guessed by now, one of the founders of Political Capital is, in fact, the same Péter Krekó that we find behind this opinion piece. He founded the liberal think tank along with a former member of the Alliance of Free Democrats, a party that governed Hungary in a coalition with the Socialists until it lost all of its seats in parliament in 2010. What’s more, prior to 2010, Political Capital was awarded contracts worth hundreds of millions of forints to provide communications consulting services to the Socialist governments headed by Ferenc Gyurcsány and Gordon Bandai.

Hence, thoughtful readers would be making a huge mistake if they were to take Krekó’s claims at face value.

Take this statement, for example, that, “The Hungarian government and its media have also successfully blamed Iranian students in Hungary for the onset of the pandemic, falsely claiming that the primary source of the pandemic is illegal migration.” Let’s make something clear: while nobody blamed those Iranian students for anything, it’s a fact that they were the first few confirmed cases of coronavirus in Hungary. End of story.

Another claim that wildly misinformed the public concerned Hungary’s regulations against scaremongering and disseminating false information, laws that were in effect only during the state of emergency due to COVID-19. Central European governments, like Hungary, Krekó writes, “have passed harsher criminal punishment for media outlets that they claim are spreading ‘fake news.’” According to him, we did this “to silence critical voices.” (Note that he made the same statement in an interview with the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies in May.) That’s false. And here’s why.

The law in question introduced sanctions not for simply expressing one’s opinion but for very specific acts: the spread of false information and distortions that could undermine or thwart efforts to protect the public against the spread of the virus. The key qualifiers here are false information that essentially endangers lives, and there is plenty of precedent for such laws in Western democracies as well — and not only when operating under a state of emergency. The fact that our political opponents have failed to find a single case where one of our “critics” has been “silenced” makes our point for us.

Should you need more examples of the kind of disinformation these politically driven “experts” are spreading about the Hungarian government, the best place to look is the liberals’ orchestrated campaign against Hungary’s Coronavirus Protection Act, which gave the government - as with similar to measures in other countries - sweeping powers to protect the lives of our people and the economy.

In a video conference in May, it was Krekó himself who sounded the alarm over the erosion of Hungarian democracy, claiming that prime minister, Viktor Orbán would rule by decree; others, including a former Finnish ambassador, would have had you believe that the Hungarian Parliament had been suspended. Of course, just like the many times we’ve had to face similar disinformation in the past, none of this was true.

Today, we know that while it certainly did not push Hungary into “authoritarian disarray,” the Coronavirus Protection Act served the country well. It enabled the government to take swift action to close borders, enact movement restrictions, slow the spread of the disease, and provide our national healthcare system and healthcare providers with the equipment necessary to treat all those who required care.

This alleged state-sponsored disinformation in Western democracies is, Krekó and his co-author claim, “the elephant in the room.” The real elephant in the room is that people like Krekó continue to pass themselves off as independent experts on Hungary when in fact they are driving a political agenda and engaging in some serious misinformation themselves. And, of course, that countless mainstream media outlets continue to let them get away with it.

  • Zoltán Kovács is Secretary of State for International Communication and Relations and International spokesperson for the Cabinet Office of Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán

This piece was first published via Hungarian state news agency MTI, subsequently appearing in dozens of newspapers and websites.

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