Fidesz: EP debate on media interference ‘smear campaign’ against Hungary

A Fidesz MEP has slammed a debate held in the European Parliament on Wednesday on Hungarian influence in Slovenian and North Macedonian media as a "smear campaign" against Hungary.

The debate was triggered by a report by a Slovenian news site on an alleged intelligence operation involving Hungarian leaders and Slovenian banks and other key figures.

According to the report, the international operation was aimed at gathering intelligence information and support for media platforms linked to North Macedonia’s VMRO-DPMNE party. The alleged goal of the operation was to oust the government of Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev in April’s general election and to terminate the Prespa Agreement that saw Macedonia change its name to North Macedonia. The report said the operation involved Hungarian media outlets linked to Slovenia’s ruling SDS party that were financed by companies with ties to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

In the debate, Fidesz MEP Balazs Hidveghi said that under the EU’s principle of the free movement of capital, European businesses had a right to invest wherever they wanted on the bloc’s single market, of which Hungary and Slovenia are both members.

He argued that Sweden could also be criticised for its influence on the Slovenian media scene, noting that the country’s largest business daily, Finance, was owned by Swedish media company Bonnier Business Press.

Hidveghi called on Hungary’s left-wing parties to also protest the involvement of the United States and Germany in the Hungarian media scene.

Vera Jourova, the European commissioner for justice, consumer protection and equal opportunities, said the European Commission considered it important for all EU citizens to have access to independent, strong and objective media platforms. She said the media today was weak and was becoming increasingly vulnerable to political and economic pressure all across the bloc.

Jourova said media pluralism and freedom was also crucial in the case of EU candidate countries, emphasising its importance in preventing outside interference in elections.

The EC has numerous ways of safeguarding European values, she said, adding that it was prepared to launch infringement procedures or approve new legislation if necessary.

The commissioner also touched on the issue of media transparency, saying both Hungary and Slovenia could have problems meeting this criterion when it comes to election campaigns.

Opposition Democratic Coalition MEP Csaba Molnar said Orban had “no qualms about spending Hungarian taxpayer money to gain influence in other European countries”. He accused Orban of attempting to meddle with the national sovereignty of other countries.

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