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Sep 19, 2017 - Zoltán Kovács

EUObserver wins ‘fake news’ award for reporting Hungary backing Catalan independence movement

Earlier this week, I took a question from a journalist about the referendum on the independence of Catalonia. The government of Hungary has not taken a position on that, and I gave a general answer emphasizing precisely that point – that it is a matter of the internal politics of Spain, adding that the will of the people should be respected within the bounds of the rules.

And faster than you can say, “fake news!” journalists – beginning with the EUObserver – were twisting my words to mean that the Hungarian government is backing the Catalan independence movement.

The topic of ethnic minorities in Europe is a delicate one. Hungarians know that, believe me. While the subject of popular referenda on independence in Europe has become a thing of late, we also know full well that the voters in those places probably spend little time wondering what the Hungarian government thinks.

So when I was asked in a press briefing in Brussels about the subject of a referendum on independence in Catalonia, I told them that the Hungarian government considers the issue a domestic affair of Spain. I added that the people’s will is important, but the rules must be respected. I did not even use the word “referendum,” let alone say that the government of Hungary has a specific position.

With that response, here’s the sensational headline that the EUObserver ran with:

“Hungary hints at backing Catalan independence vote.” The reporter intentionally played up my general mention of the importance of the will of the people, but downplayed my explicit remark that it’s a matter of the internal politics of Spain and completely ignored my emphasis on respecting the rules.

That’s all it takes. A journalist with an agenda, a distortion of emphasis, an omission, a misleading headline, and fake news and misinformation spread like wild fire.

The title of the report has since been changed (to the only slightly better “Hungary calls for respect of Catalan people’s will”) but the damage has already been done.

It was a silly question in the first place. The citizens in Spain don’t really care what Budapest thinks and the Hungarian government has no business in the domestic affairs of the country. We’ve always advocated for non-intervention in issues like these. In this case, quite unfortunately, a journalist’s lack of professionalism and pursuit of a click-bait headline, completely misrepresented my response and ends up with this week’s “fake news” award.