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The Hungarian government accused the U.S. State Department of interfering in the country’s election campaign, reported Politico (Germany).
The Hungarian Foreign Ministry summoned the top American diplomat in Budapest, chargé d’affaires David Kostelancik, after the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL) announced on November 7 that it would provide up to $700,000 “for projects that increase citizens’ access to objective information about domestic and global issues in Hungary.”
“DRL’s goal is to support media outlets operating outside the capital in Hungary to produce fact-based reporting and increase their audience and economic sustainability,” the State Department wrote on its website.
The move by Budapest raises tensions with Washington at a time when policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic are worried about Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s increasingly tight control of the media.
While the American funding would only be provided in May 2018 at the earliest, after Hungary’s spring election, Budapest argues that the funds amount to U.S. intervention in domestic politics.
“We think this is a very strange thing, we consider it an unusual step among allies,” János Lázár, Orbán’s chief of staff, said at a press conference, adding that the State Department’s funding plans amount to “interference in the election campaign.”
“It is unclear what the U.S. State Department’s goal is,” he added.
The Hungarian Foreign Ministry also complained about the State Department’s interest in Hungarian media in October, and Kostelancik was summoned to explain himself after delivering a public address defending freedom of the press.
Orbán’s Fidesz party and individuals close to the prime minister have gained control of the bulk of the country’s media market over the past years, raising concerns among watchdogs and some foreign governments.
“The call for grant applications was surprising because the State Department does not really fund similar projects in the region, not to mention in an EU country,” said Zselyke Csaky, a researcher specializing in Central Europe at U.S.-based think tank Freedom House.
“But on the other hand it was not surprising given the state of Hungary’s media,” she said, adding that “pro-government businessmen acquired practically every regional paper in the country, on top of gobbling up national print media and taking a significant share of the TV market.”
The Hungarian government, which is a vocal supporter of U.S. President Donald Trump, has repeatedly claimed that State Department policies do not represent the White House’s views.
“Several tens of thousands of people work in the State Department, a great deal of whom are holdovers from the Obama administration,” said László Szabó, Hungary’s ambassador to the U.S., in an interview with Hungarian state agency MTI in August.
“We trust that this will change and we’ll have more and more friends in the State Department too,” he said.
But in Washington, observers say that the State Department’s decisions regarding Hungary do represent the formal U.S. position.
“Committing funding to countries like Hungary to improve access to objective media is a conversation that was ongoing at the State Department under the Obama administration,” said a former Obama team official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “But the decision was made under this administration.”
show source https://www.politico.eu/article/hungary-accuses-us-of-meddling-in-election/