April 9, 2019 / 10:46 AM / 7 months ago

Hungarians start European news agency with pro-Orban content

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - A group of Hungarian business leaders and politicians close to Prime Minister Viktor Orban have founded an international news agency in London whose coverage will focus on central and eastern Europe.

FILE PHOTO: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban applauds as he presents the programme of his Fidesz party for European Parliament elections in Budapest, Hungary, April 5, 2019. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo/File Photo

Orban’s associates have gained control over a large chunk of the Hungarian media in recent years and his Fidesz party has taken total control of state media, drawing international accusations that they are weakening freedom of speech.

However, Orban has been unable to control international news coverage, which has been far more critical of him than local media. The new agency’s early content suggests it is more sympathetic to him.

The new company, called V4NA, was registered in London by Hungary’s ambassador to the UK, Kristof Szalay-Bobrovniczky, on Dec. 31, 2018, according to company filings.

Last month, Arpad Habony, Orban’s main spin doctor and eminence grise, acquired a 40 percent stake in V4NA via his London political advisory firm, Danube Business Consulting Ltd.

Subsequently, New Wave Media Group, owned by KESMA, a foundation that controls most of Hungary’s pro-government media, acquired a 57 percent stake from Szalay-Bobrovniczky.

Despite its huge role in the Hungarian media market, KESMA was exempted from regulatory scrutiny last year on grounds that it was a strategic national asset.

V4NA’s name reflects a focus on the Visegrad Four countries - Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic. It plans more coverage of other centres in the run-up to European Parliament elections due in May.

“Our team of 50 journalists and rapid-response news teams are on location where the leading stories happen in Europe: London, Brussels, Paris, Berlin, Prague, Budapest, Belgrade, Bratislava, Warsaw,” the agency says on its web site, V4NA.com.

Most of the site’s content is behind a paywall, but the selection of front-page headlines resonates with the populism of Orban, one of the fiercest critics of immigration to Europe.

“Migrant kills wife after she converts to Christianity,” says one headline from Monday. A report about Matteo Salvini, leader of Italy’s League, anti-immigrant interior minister and ally of Orban, was headlined “Salvini: Citizens should control Europe”.

“Hungarian minister on EP elections: Hungarian votes also matter” and “Immigration is a war of cultures and civilisations” were headlines that borrowed directly from Orban’s rhetoric.

In an emailed statement, V4NA said it offered a “conservative, right-wing perspective” on European news. It did not answer questions about its relations with Hungary’s government or its business plans.

KESMA did not immediately reply to Reuters’ questions. Habony could not be reached for comment.

Reporting by Marton Dunai; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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