freedom of the press

The Sovereignty Protection Office launched an investigation against Atlatszo

Ákos Pálvölgyi, director of the Sovereignty Protection Office, informed us in an official letter on Tuesday that the Office, under the mandate of the law on the protection of national sovereignty adopted by the Hungarian Parliament last year, “investigates organisations that use foreign funding to influence the will of voters or support such activities”.

The official letter states that “ Közhasznú Nonprofit Kft. is a foreign-subsidised organisation with a significant proportion of its annual budget coming from abroad, according to the accounts published on its website”. Therefore, the Sovereignty Protection Office “launches an individual – comprehensive – investigation into the activities of”.

The attached survey asks 11 questions: some of them related to information that is available to the public (articles of association, financial statements), others to accounting information (general ledger extracts, bank account statements) and others to grants received from international donor organisations mentioned in the annexes to our financial statements (e.g. grant agreements) going back several years.

The questions from the Sovereignty Protection Office also included the request to “explain in detail how Atlatszo cooperates with the Transparency International Hungary Foundation, which is listed as a cooperating partner on its website.” Transparency International Hungary has just today issued a statement that a similar investigation has been launched against them by the same authority, with a six-page letter containing a total of 62 questions.

In their view, the Sovereignty Protection Office “attacks citizens and civil society organisations that voice criticism under the pretext of allegedly defending national sovereignty”.

Like Transparency International Hungary, Atlatszo has repeatedly voiced its reservations about the law on the protection of sovereignty adopted at the end of last year.

In December, for example, we wrote, together with several other editorial offices, that “although the newly adopted law on the protection of sovereignty does not regulate the operation of media companies, it is nevertheless capable of severely restricting press freedom, making the work of independent editorial offices, journalists and media companies difficult or even impossible.” We also joined the joint statement of Hungarian NGOs protesting against the law.

The flagship of pro-government NGOs, the Civil Coalition Forum (CÖF-CÖKA), has also been harassing Atlatszo for a long time on the pretext of foreign funding. Most recently, in March, they held a press conference to announce that they would set up a working group to investigate foreign-funded organisations, with a special focus on Atlatszo. The press conference of the pro-government propaganda organisation was then reported by the national news agency and the public media service, while 20 independent editorial offices issued a joint statement in support of press freedom and Atlatszo.

Cover image: Péter Somogyi (szarvas) / Telex.