State-affiliated actors launch smear campaign against Hungarian investigative nonprofit Átlátszó

Tamás Bodoky, founding editor-in-chief of the Hungarian investigative nonprofit Átlátszó. Photo by, used with permission.

This story was published by the Hungarian investigative journalism non-profit, Atlatszo. An edited version is published below here as part of a partnership with Global Voices.

Tamás Bodoky, editor-in-chief of Atlatszo, told Media1 that he believes there is a coordinated campaign to attack the investigative nonprofit from actors close to Hungary's ruling party Fidesz, mirroring the autocratic methods used in Putin’s Russia.

A putyini Oroszország módszereire emlékeztet és összehangolt kampányt sejtet, amikor először a kormánylap támad ránk külföldi ügynökséget és nemzetárulást emlegetve, majd a kormány kedvenc álcivil szervezete titkosszolgálati beavatkozást sürget. Az okot mondvacsináltnak tartjuk: nem a kisebbségi magyarok ellen, hanem az ő kezdeményezésükre, az ő érdekükben és velük együtt vizsgáltuk három évvel ezelőtt a Bethlen Gábor Alapból kifizetett külhoni támogatásokat, amelyek egyébként az alap honlapján bárki számára nyilvánosan hozzáférhetők, mi is ezekből az adatokból dolgoztunk. A projekt az erdélyi, kisebbségi magyarok által működtetett Átlátszó Erdély tényfeltáró portál ötlete volt, és ők voltak a fő pályázók az oknyomozó újságírás támogatására létrejött európai IJ4EU alapnál

Reminiscent of Putin’s Russia and suggesting a concerted campaign, first the government newspaper attacks us, accusing us being a foreign agency and of treason, and then the government’s favourite pseudo-civilian organization calls for a secret service intervention on a press conference. We consider the reason to be completely baseless: it was not against the minority Hungarians, but at their initiative, in their interests and together with them that we investigated the foreign aid paid out from the Bethlen Gábor Fund three years ago, which, by the way, is publicly available to anyone on the Fund’s website, and we also worked from this data. The project was the brainchild of Átlátszó Erdély, an investigative nonprofit run by minority Hungarians in Transylvania, and they were the main applicants for the European IJ4EU fund for investigative journalism.

Bodoky has also been a member of the newly established Integrity Authority’s anti-corruption working group since December 2022. The Integrity Authority was formed after the European Commission required Hungary to commit to fighting corruption and the waste of public money, in order to continue receiving EU funds.

Screenshot of the Facebook post by CÖF depicting their Jan 12 press conference smearing Atlatszo. Click to enlarge.

The government-affiliated civil organization CÖF (Civil Cooperation Forum), attacked the opposition through posters. CÖF operates with money from the state-owned gambling service provider Szerencsejáték Zrt. CÖF held a press conference on January 12, 2023, where a spokesperson said that Átlátszó could pose a national security risk by receiving financial support from foreign partners.

The press conference occurred after an article with similar sentiment appeared in Magyar Nemzet, a newspaper belonging to KESMA, a media conglomerate controlled by the ruling party.

KESMA (Közép-Európai Sajtó és Média Alapítvány or Central European Press and Media Foundation) is a Hungarian foundation established in 2018, which controls many of the country's media outlets, ensuring their loyalty to the ruling party Fidesz, led by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Its assets consist of cable news TV channels, radio stations, internet news portals, newspapers, and magazines with a joint estimated value of over USD 100 million at the time of its founding. At the time, its estimated annual profit was over USD 22.5 million, made mostly through government advertisments.

The claim about the alleged national security risk has since been blown up one after the other by various media outlets close to Fidesz, including the state media service provider and the publicly funded

An analysis by the International Press Institute revealed more details about the smear campaign:

These texts about Átlátszó’s non-profit funding model included allegations that Átlátszó was receiving ‘Judas money’ and being a ‘criminal association’ involved in treason and anti-national activities. In a second defamatory article in Magyar Nemzet, Bodoky was directly referred to as a liar and a ‘national traitor.’

Since last year, there have been numerous attacks against independent media that receive funding from abroad from government-affiliated newspapers. Earlier, PestiSrácok and several other media, for example, attacked Telex for receiving funding from the United States for its start-up academy.

The publicly-funded Fidesz media network has also thrown around the term “dollar media” and, in order to discredit the independent media, is constantly trying to maintain the false impression that there are moral issues with receiving either funding or investment from abroad.

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