In a strongly-worded report, the venerable news agency Reuters has again joined ranks with Hungary’s opposition left-wing media regarding alleged “systemic fraud” within the Hungarian government’s public procurement process. In an “exclusive” article, journalist Gabriela Baczynska, known for her highly critical and deprecating opinions regarding some Central-Eastern European conservative governments, based her report on what she called “an internal document seen by Reuters”.
The article alleges that the European Commission had sent a document to the Hungarian government in which they demanded specific legal changes from the Viktor Orbán government in order to be eligible for recovery funds. Quoting the internal document from Jan. 26, the Commission allegedly demanded a correction to what the journalist quotes as “systemic irregularities”. The author of the article goes as far as claiming that the Hungarian government was already working on a response.
Gergely Gulyás, the minister responsible for the Hungarian Prime Minister’s office, had at a press conference flatly denied claims that the government had received such a request from the European Commission. He called the Reuters report “fake news” and had expressed concerns that its claims have been adopted by some in the Hungarian opposition media as facts. The minister had therefore called on the European Commission to urgently distance itself from these reports.
As is customary, the Hungarian left-wing media had quickly adopted the false claims included in the original Reuters article. One of the largest business publications, HVG, known for their staunch anti-Orbán views, had published an article repeating all the claims of the Reuters piece without any fact-checking. Despite the government’s official statement, according to which such a request from Brussels has not in fact been received, the opposition business portal had again repeated the claims, even expanding on certain points.
The misleading news report from a respected news agency comes at a sensitive time following revelations by Time Magazine that a conservative head of state was removed from office through an organized and relentless manipulation campaign designed to sway public opinion. According to Time, the campaign involved media outlets, social media platforms, and left-wing NGOs financed with hundreds of millions of dollars from big business which all conspired to spread critical views about former President Donald Trump and suppress those supporting him prior to the US presidential elections.
Although Reuters proudly declares “that the integrity, independence, and freedom from bias of Thomson Reuters shall at all times be fully preserved” in its Trust Principles, they have not retracted any sections of the problematic article.
Instead, the article seems to use gratuitous inflammatory expressions such as “systemic fraud”, while even the alleged sources quoted by the author never describe the Hungarian public procurement process in such damning words.
Furthermore, the article refers back to the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) report from two years ago, which had calculated irregularities in the use of EU structural funds in Hungary at almost 4 percent, which is ten times the European average. However, the Reuters article fails to mention that the lion’s share of this amount is made up by a single fraud case perpetrated during the times of the previous socialist-liberal government and not under Orbán’s government.
During the construction of the Budapest underground system’s fourth line, partly financed from EU funds, hundreds of millions of euros were siphoned off by corrupt officials under the noses of three consecutive socialist prime ministers along with the liberal mayor of Budapest, Gábor Demszky.
Although the irregularities have been committed under the previous government, it was during Orbán’s term when these cases were identified. As a result, the Hungarian government had to repay €280 million. Without this information, the entire premise of the Reuters article, which is that Orbán leads a corrupt and fraudulent government, is misleading at best.
Ever since the 2015 migrant invasion that had seen over 10.000 illegal daily crossing through the Hungarian borders, Reuters journalists have been producing one-sided and emotionally charged news reports to the world’s media depicting Orbán as a corrupt and undemocratic. This strategy of mixing facts with half-truths, quoting unverifiable sources and relying on anti-government NGOs’ opinions while suppressing the voice of those being accused, could be a sign of a similar campaign reminiscent of what Times Magazine called the “Democracy Defense Coalition” that had helped to win the election for Joe Biden. In view of the planned 2022 parliamentary elections in Hungary, this does not bode well for the democratic process in the region.