Monthly disinformation roundup – most of the fake stories were about the coronavirus pandemic
October has been quite an exciting month in connection with disinformation in Hungary. Most of the fake stories were about the coronavirus pandemic. The usual suspects: George Soros, the infamous American billionaire and the topic of migration also generated false narratives in pro-government media outlets. This is our monthly disinformation review.
The number one topic: the COVID-19 disease
In October, the most widespread disinformation narratives were the ones about the pandemic. On 16 October the Prime Minister of Hungary, Viktor Orbán has uploaded a short video to Facebook where he talked about the current challenges of the pandemic. We are facing a difficult period. But even in Germany the death rate is higher than in Hungary. The Hungarian healthcare system is holding its ground in comparison with other European countries. We trust in our healthcare workers, the doctors, the nurses and also the epidemiologists…”
However, as the article of 444.hu showed, this statement is not exactly correct, especially if we look at the statistics of the second wave of the pandemic, which clearly affects Hungary more seriously than the first one. Since September 412 people died in Germany as a consequence of the coronavirus, and 437 in Hungary. The situation is the same if we compare the daily new deaths per million people which can be seen in the diagrams of Our World in Data.
In connection with the pandemic there was another important event: several school principals received an email, which stated that a nasal spray for allergies can be used as a protection against the COVID-19, as it is effective against viruses and bacteria. In fact, the use of the nasal antihistamine azelastine is still under investigation by experts, not as a preventive medicine, but as a treatment for an already existing disease. And it is completely false that it can provide protection for hours. The Telex later revealed that the email was written by Zsuzsa Hegedűs, the Chief Advisor of the Prime Minister. Even the Operational Group has reacted to the rumours saying that „research is still going on about the effects of the recently advertised nasal spray but this potential still needs to be confirmed in clinical studies so no one should use it for now.”
The absurd lie of a pro-government news site
Probably one of the most bizarre stories of the month was the article of Magyar Nemzet, publised on 6 October with the promise to reveal the truth about András Pikó, mayor of the VIII. district. This is not only a fake news but also a good example of how pro-government media companies are trying to undermine the credibility of independent or oppositional politicians. The background of the story is that András Pikó said during the board meeting of the disctrict that the corruption of the Fidesz party is exactly the same as if he would have hired his own father for the renovation of the publicly owned real estates – quoted the news site, Telex.
The story later appeared in Magyar Nemzet, as if it would reveal the real intentions of the so called independent politician. Later on, Pikó has proved wrong several statements of the article on his Facebook page: „Recently an article was published by Magyar Nemzet stating that I would like to hire my father for the renovation of the publicly owned houses in the district. It has many obstacles, the saddest of them is that my father – who was a gardener – has died years ago.”
Corruption and press freedom in Hungary
There are two stories that shed a light on how the government and pro-governmental organisations do everything to make the public believe that everything is just fine in our country. One is an analysis made by the Médianéző Központ on 30 September. The publication called Increasing diversity – 10 facts about the Hungarian media is trying to convince its readers that there is nothing wrong with the diversity of the media because everyone can have access to all types newspapers regardless of their political affiliation. What is more, the publication states that „left liberal” sites are profitable and their number has increased significantly in the past few years.
In order to prove its statements and to demonstrate the balance of newspapers regarding political orientation there is a spreadsheet which lists the so called „left liberal” news sites. The problem is that it can be a little conceiving as it lists separately the online and printed versions of several newspaper which of course makes the list a lot longer. Another quite interesting thing is that according to the analysis the news site Kurucinfó which regularly publishes stories under the label „roma crime”, „fake Holocaust” and by the way which is admittedly a radical national paper is also gets the same „liberal” and „left” label just as Nők Lapja (a printed magazine for women) or Alfahír (which owner and publisher is connected to the political party Jobbik).
The news site Azonnali asked Levente Bánk Boros, the director of the Központ about the meaning of „left liberal” and he said: „The government has no right-wing (national/conservative or christian democratic – all can be used as a synonym) oppositon, therefore every newspaper which belongs to the oppositon and which are anti-governmental, can be labelled as „left liberal”.
The story of corruption in Hungary in comparison with Germany also deserves attention. It’s not surprising that this is connected to Orbán too. In his regular Friday interview in the morning show of Kossuth Rádió, the reporter asked the Prime Minister about the vice president of the European Parliament, Katarina Barley, who recently criticised the government for corruption. As a reaction, the Prime Minister said that he doesn’t want to undermine the good relations between the two states but „we should remember that corruption is a bigger problem in german speaking countries.”
Transparency International has a Corruption Perception Index (CPI) which they update every year to provide an insight into the corruption around the world and it says otherwise. In recent years, our country is always between the worst countries, somewhere in the end of the list. The CPI scores and ranks countries based on how corrupt a country’s public sector is perceived to be by experts and business executives. In 2019 Hungary got the 70th place among 180 countries. Concerning the EU, only Bulgary achieved worse results than we did. Also we are in the same place with Romania, which makes Hungary the second corrupt country int he European Union.
The last but not the least: the growing influence of George Soros
Of course the infamous George Soros also appeared in some of the disinformative narratives of the propaganda sites. One example is connected to the jihadist attack against Samuel Paty, a teacher who was beheaded near Paris. The journalists of 888.hu probably saw this tragedy a great opportunity to praise the governments anti-migration policy as they publised an article explaining: we should thank God and the people for our Prime Minister because if it wasn’t for him, this islamist attack could have happened in our country too. They also state that „It is clear now that the left-wing, including Brussels and Soros is on the side of the tragedy in Paris.”
We could also get to know about the ongoing preparations for a revolution in the USA in connection with the presidental elections. Magyar Nemzet has wrote that organisations led by George Soros would like to create chaos in the USA after the election on 3 november regardless of the outcome of the election.
The 888.hu was also dealing with the same topic, stating that Ferenc Gyurcsány, the previous Prime Minister is in favour of Biden, not the Hungarians. He would like to get more support for his anti-national policy. And according to the propaganda site, the re-election of Trump could be useful for
„further increase of the diversity of Hungarian media and strenghtening the right to information”
On 28 October the Center for Fundamental Rights (Alapjogokért Központ) also publised an analysis that examined the influence of political NGOs to the European Commission. According to the article, NGOs often organise lobby meeting with the commissioners and influence them indirectly „behind the scenes”. It appered in several propaganda sites, on 888.hu as well, stating that the conclusion of the analysis of these lobby meetings is that Frans Timmerman and Vera Jourová are the two most important persons responsible for the spreading of progressive agenda in the European Commisson,because they have met with the Open Society European Policy Institue (OSEPI) multiple times. The analysis also dealt with the Amnesty International, in fact, they even created a small spreadsheet demonstrating how the NGO affected the policymaking process of the Commisson.
Written by Zita Szopkó