Nézőpont: Opposition media rakes in billions of foreign funding each year

Press freedom in Hungary remains a hotly debated topic both domestically and internationally. The Nézőpont Institute recently presented its "Freedom of the Press in Hungary 2024" analysis, offering significant insights into the media landscape, including the substantial influence of foreign funding on government-critical media outlets. This blog post delves into the findings of the report and discussions from the event held on June 25, 2024, highlighting the current state of press freedom in Hungary.

Bánk Levente Boros, the political analysis director at Nézőpont Institute, revealed that at least HUF 1 billion of foreign funding is received annually by the opposition, government-critical media. He noted that this estimate could potentially exceed HUF 2 billion. The institute's efforts to gauge the extent of foreign support involved surveying domestic media publishers; however, only five politically relevant opposition media publishers responded, highlighting the difficulty in obtaining detailed financial reports from media outlets such as atlatszo.hu and valaszonline.hu.

Boros emphasized the need for transparency, suggesting that media outlets should disclose the details of their foreign funding to inform citizens and readers and to be able to scrutinize any foreign influence on Hungarian media.

He also shed light on the profitability of opposition media, which collectively generated around HUF 4 billion in profit in 2023, questioning the narrative of their suppression. Notable examples include the Partizán YouTube channel, which reported approximately HUF 570 million in foreign support, and Nyugat.hu, which received over HUF 80 million. The publisher of 444.hu, Magyar Jeti Zrt., disclosed HUF 42 million in reader support and an additional HUF 150 million in foreign funding.

Furthermore, Tamás Lánczi, head of the Sovereignty Protection Office, highlighted ongoing attempts to influence Hungary's national sovereignty, stressing the importance of remaining true to Hungarian interests and values. He also advocated identifying and countering foreign actors challenging Hungary's sovereignty, particularly through media channels.

The report underscores that all news sources in Hungary are easily accessible to the public, regardless of their political stance. Printed newspapers and magazines are distributed nationally, and significant electronic media have nationwide coverage. Over 8 million people can access TV channels, and 92.7 percent of households have broadband internet.

Additionally, there are over 14 million mobile subscriptions, indicating high equipment availability. Media consumption is nearly universal among adults, with 99.9 percent regularly engaging with various media. Television remains the most popular medium at 78 percent (6.2 million), followed closely by the internet at 77 percent (6.1 million). Radio and print media have smaller audiences, with 38 percent (3 million) and 11 percent (0.9 million), respectively. Social media usage is also high, with significant daily engagement on platforms like Facebook, YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram.

There is a slight preference for government-critical media, with 71 percent (5.6 million) of the population following these sources compared to 64 percent (5.1 million) who follow pro-government media. However, the number of people who exclusively follow one type of media is low, ensuring a balanced exposure to different political perspectives.

Since the 2010 government change, the number of government-critical media outlets has doubled from 36 to 61 in 2024. Hungary's liberal media regulation allows for the easy and quick establishment of new media outlets, contributing to the growing number of critical voices. Notable new entrants include social media platforms like YouTube channels, which often receive significant foreign funding.

The analysis highlights that major government-critical media companies have continuously increased their revenue, doubling over the past eight years. Opposition media publishers have been consistently profitable, with a combined after-tax profit of approximately HUF 4 billion in 2023. However, foreign funding significantly contributes to the profitability of these media outlets, although exact figures and sources are often unclear.

Identifying the full extent of foreign financing is challenging, but it is estimated that government-critical media receive billions of forints from abroad annually. Donors include foreign governments (notably the United States), international organizations (EU), and various foundations. These funds often come through complex channels, making transparency difficult. Foreign involvement in Hungarian media raises concerns about potential influence on domestic politics, especially in the current geopolitical climate.

Hungary's constitution and laws guarantee freedom of the press and expression. The media landscape reflects this freedom, sometimes even at the expense of individual or community rights. Government-critical media often harshly criticizes government officials, while pro-government media focuses on external critics. The media environment includes extreme expressions and threats, with opposition figures sometimes making inflammatory statements against government-affiliated journalists.

Hungary's media authority is independent compared to some EU countries where media authorities are under government control. However, the media authority more frequently and severely sanctions pro-government media than critical ones. Government communication is transparent, with regular press conferences and direct responses to parliamentary questions. The law guarantees access to public data within 30 days, enforceable through the courts.

Public media's public service nature is guaranteed by laws involving both government and opposition oversight. Public media provides unique content not offered by commercial broadcasters, ensuring a balance of government and opposition representation in its news programs.

To sum up, contrary to the false notion spread by opposition media that the Hungarian press is intimidated or repressed, the "Freedom of the Press in Hungary 2024" report indicates the domestic media landscape is diverse and accessible.

However, the influence of foreign funding necessitates greater transparency and regulation in media financing to preserve the integrity and independence of Hungarian journalism.