Monthly disinformation roundup – Eastern vaccines and attacks directed against Hungary

The new year began with the same old disinformation narratives: we could read several fake stories  about the coronavirus vaccines, especially in connection with the Russian and Chinese ones, but the the blaming of the EU and the activity of the opposition were also popular topics in January. This is our monthly disinformation review.

Vaccination and conspiracy theories

The global coronavirus pandemic provided an exciting topic in January, especially in connection with the recently started vaccination Hungary was the first country in the EU that gave preliminary approval to Russian Sputnik V vaccine and ordered doses sufficient for 1 million people. An agreement was also signed with Chinese producer of the Sinopharm vaccine which would be enough to inoculate 2,5 million people. In spite of the fact that some polls suggest that only 4-7 percent of Hungarians would accept these vaccines, the government is trying to present the „Eastern purchase” as a success story.

State Secretary Tamás Menczer said that „by now, Europe is queuing in China for the vaccine.” He justified this statement by adding that after the announcement of the Hungarian government about the negotiations with the Chinese vaccine producer, 14 EU member states contacted China as well.

Another, familiar tactic is blaming others for the relatively slow vaccination rollout. The first target was the EU and Brussels. Propaganda sites justify the purchase of vaccines outside the EU by saying that „Hungary is forced to look for its own resources in order to get enough vaccine”. It is true that the vaccination process isn’t going as it was planned, and the responsibility of the EU is beyond any question, however, it is also worth looking at the situation of the other member states, because there are some EU countries as well that are ahead of us regarding the number of inoculated people.

Besides the EU, the Hungarian opposition also appeared in pro-government media as a scapegoat: several articles stated the opposition would want the pandemic to have more severe consequences in order to gain power – even at costs of human lives.

Source: Our World in Data

The attitude towards different coronavirus-vaccines and in general, toward the inoculation itself was also an interesting topic last month. The number of people who stated that they don’t want to get vaccinated at all are still alarmingly high, which raises questions regarding the effect of conspiracy theories and fake news, which sometimes appear in the communication of the government itself. A good example is the smear-campaign directed against Péter Krekó, the political analyst of Political Capital.

“Media alerts like machine gun fire” – analyst targeted by pro-government media in a witch-hunt

Péter Krekó, political analyst at Political Capital, a Hungarian think tank, has been the target of a frenzied attack by media allied to Viktor Orbán’s government. He told our colleague the sound a smear campaign makes on one’s phone and the best help to sanely live through a character assassination.

The Centre for Social Sciences has organised a discussion in connection with COVID-19 disease and attitudes towards the vaccines. They also presented the results of their survey, which shows that the most common misbeliefs and conspiracy-theories are related to the fear of losing control and/or to the belief that the pandemic was created artficially by politicians in order to achieve total control over the population.

There are also narratives which question the dangers of the epidemic. Moreover, there is a small group who agreed with the statement that the virus was brought into Hungary by migrants.

The most important finding of the research is that there is a clear connection between conspiracy theories and attitudes towards the vaccina: if someone believes in wild conspiracy theories it is probable that they are also against the vaccination.

Source: Centre for Social Sciences

Growing political pressure

Another highlight of the previous month was the analysis published by a Hungarian pro-government think-tank, Nézőpont Intézet, which examined the controversial rule of law criteria in connection with the EU funds. The analysis intended to present the means of political pressure directed against Hungary because of the Hungarian-Polish veto threat, and also warns its readers that such pressure is also possible during the parliamentary elections of 2022.

According to the piece, the stake of the whole debate was not the EU budget, but the influence over the European Union. Because of this, the left-liberal network has launched an attack in Brussels directed against the Poles and Hungarians who were willing to protect their nation’s sovereignty at all cost. The 5 page long analysis mentioned the so-called Soros-plan and focused on the spreading of fake news as well, providing proof that the opposition media outlets tried to undermine the Hungarian-Polish alliance.

The infamous scandal of former MEP, József Szájer and Tamás Deutsch are also presented, but in a rather interesting way. According to the analysis „serious steps have been taken to discredit Fidesz, Hungary’s ruling ppolitical party.”

Source: V4 News Agency

The impact of the events in America

During the last month, several important events took place in other countries which also appeared in Hungarian media outlets and which provided a great opportunity to spread disinformation.

One example is the storming of the Capitol on 6 January, which was presented by Hungarian pro-governmental news sites (like Magyar Nemzet) as an event directed against all right-wing conservative people. The article states that left-wing is trying to destroy everyone who disagrees with them, „that’s why we (i.e. Hungarians) must learn from the fall of America.” The author also warns its readers that this could be the fate of Central-Europe too.

The protests were presented in the Hungarian media in a really absurd way, stating that the left wing is trying to undermine the position of the conservatives in the country so much so that they would even send them to gulag and silence them with „communist methods” reviving the system of informants. The original article was published by the bilingual news site, V4 News Agency, which positions itself as „a young, independent international news agency”, which gives a conservative, right wing perspective of the key political, economical, cultural and other news critical to the EU. In reality, Árpád Habony, informal advisor of Prime Minsiter Orbán can also be linked to the News Agency:

London-based V4 Agency is Orbán’s propaganda machine disguised as global media product

English Contact us or follow us on social media! A venture of Fidesz-allied political strategist Árpád Habony, bilingual news site V4NA channels misinformation between Hungary, Slovenia, and North Macedonia. The ambitions fuelling the self-styled news agency, however, are curtailed by its meagre capabilities. Support independent quality journalism in Hungary!

Zita Szopkó

Photo credit: The cover photo of the analysis published by Nézőpont Intézet: Big victory against big attack – The means of putting pressure on Hungary

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