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Hungarian gov’t money, US advisor with Republican ties behind propaganda news site

media, propaganda, USA

VSquarem 23.10.2020

The website Remix provides news in English on Central Europe, with a soft spin much alike Viktor Orbán’s agenda. Behind it, Átlátszó has discovered a foundation run mostly on the money of the Hungarian government, as well as a long line of right-wing US campaign experts advising Fidesz with ties to the Republicans.

by Márton Sarkadi Nagy, Átlátszó

Since I’ve been working on this article about Remix, an online news site, and the political and historical background behind it, whomever I show the front page of the site don’t show much interest. At first look, everyone sees a timely, English-language online medium of modern visual design providing news on Central and Eastern Europe.

At the time of writing this, the front page of Remix, originally founded two years ago, is filled with news items of the Visegrad Four: Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, plus some current events mainly in other Central European countries. There’s nearly no standout signs that Remix is in fact one of those mouthpieces that are financed by Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán’s regime that carry sometimes propagandistic, sometimes disinformative messages to the international public. What is more, the background of the owner and of CEO Remix lies in a decades-long practice of political advice of a US Republican orientation received by Orbán and his Fidesz party.

A spectator well versed in the peculiarities of Hungarian political media can, however, glean several telling details from the front page. The titles for the news items sometimes belie an underlying worldview toted in local media friendly with the government. The story at the top refers to Central European University or CEU — an institution hounded out of Hungary a few years ago — as the same derogatory nickname, “Soros University”, by which Hungarian governmental figures regularly refer to it.

Among several stories dealing with serious topics in the realms of politics, business or culture, news pieces dealing with migration seem to be inexplicably abundant. For example, right next to a lengthy article on defence procurements by the V4 countries, there is one on two migrant people getting apprehended on a Czech highway — like the two topics could bear the same importance. Some news are tagged “migrant crime”. The expression echoes “gipsy crime”, a racist concept championed by the Hungarian far right and “jew crime”, an analogue tag used on the neonazi news site to tag some news items. Part of the front page at Remix. Source:

And in the downmost news block, the front page of Remix displays parts of an English-language news show that used to run on Echo TV. Echo, a news television which has been a longtime ally of Fidesz usually noted for its equally amateurish and radical tone was discontinued a few years ago, while being a part of the KESMA media group friendly with the Hungarian government.

Earlier this year, I wrote a lengthy piece about V4NA, a self-styled news agency that disseminates messages of Orbán’s propaganda machinery while disguised as a global media product.

Remix, while obviously tries to cater to a more conscious readership than the somewhat ham-fisted V4NA, still shares a problem with the so-called news agency: disinterest. However nicely dressed up and written in perfect English journalese, Remix’s material seems to leave only a tiny social media footprint in the English-speaking information sphere. During September, the three top articles published on Remix gathered only 6.6., 6.2. and 1.1 thousand total interactions (that is, likes plus shares plus comments) on social media, according to data gathered by Newswhip.

The ease by which Remix fits the look of the current international milieu of news sites, dominated by a culture lead by US publishers, is not a coincidence. The owner of FWD Affairs Kft., Remix’s publisher is Patrick Egan, an American politician consultant now living in Budapest.

There’s been not much written formerly about Egan, now 51. He was reportedly a speaker at the regular Fidesz jamboree in Tusnádfürdő, moderated a public debate at Terror Háza, which belongs under Orbán-ally Mária Schmidt, four years ago his company received a 14 million HUF contract from Miniszterelnöki Kabinetiroda, and his company holds a key role in English-language, government-financed news site Transylvania Now.

But there is much more to learn about Egan, who has strong ties towards the US Republican Party and its formally non-partisan ally, the International Republican Institute or IRI. It is particularly ironic, that, according to their website, in 2016 IRI has “launched a new program aimed at countering the increasing threat of Russian soft power and propaganda”, since the narratives pushed by media organisations considered close to Orbán often share Russian disinformation narratives.

In a consultancy firm active in Hungary, Egan is working with a certain Sean Tonner, another US political consultant, who advised Fidesz during the noughties.

Since Fidesz’s landslide electoral victory in 2010, much has been made about Orbán’s connection to Arthur J. Finkelstein, a Republican campaign strategist who made a career working for the Republican side of the US political arena and his right hand man George Birnbaum. Less people now that they are but the last in a long line of political advisors originating from around the Republicans.

But in this tradition, it is surely a novelty if the expert sent to educate the friendly local yokels is turned and sent back to pollute the English-language information sphere with disinformation. Apparently, this is exactly what seems to be happening in Egan’s case, as according to the “about” section of Remix, it is funded in part by the foundation Batthyány Lajos Alapítvány (BLA).

BLA was originally established by a group of friends and allies of former PM József Antall in 1991. After Antall has passed away and no successor has taken up his politics, the foundation has gone stale, only for the Orbán administration to rain money on it in recent years.

I’ve reviewed BLA’s recent financial reports and found that, though the foundation itself is formally independent of the government, lacking meaningful other income, in effect it serves as a conduit for channeling donations from the Hungarian government to other entities. BLA’s main source of funding is Miniszterelnöki Kabinetiroda, the part of government run by Antal Rogán that is also responsible for channeling advertising money. In 2019, they received 3,534 billion HUF from state coffers, which were then redistributed to more than a dozen various other organisations.

We don’t know how much money FWD Affairs received from BLA. But there apparently aren’t any ads on the site which also shows no sign of a paywall or any other system allowing for reader contributions. Yearly financial reports from of the publisher show dynamic growth and a return on sales of nearly 50 percent — this rate of profitability belongs to fairy tales for even those media companies that operate with a recognisable business model.

I’ve asked BLA about the amount of their financing, as per my information the questions have been forwarded to the leadership of the foundation, who so far didn’t answer. I’ve asked Egan several things, for which I’ve received no reply.

One of these questions was about Klára Vizér, a former Fidesz politician who represents a personal connection of unknown substance of Egan’s to the party’s ranks. From 2010, Vizér was a deputy mayor in the 15th district of Budapest, but later lost his position in the leadership after several rounds of tumultuous political infighting at the local chapter.

Another interesting fact formerly gone unreported is that Egan has been active around politics in Hungary since the noughties. In 2005, Egan gave an interview to Hungarian daily Magyar Nemzet, where he was identified a former Iraqi country director later promoted to the Central and Eastern European directorship of IRI and dubbed a “democracy maker”.

“Egan is one of those American young men, who use their determination and careers in service of an American effort to spread Western-style democracy all over the globe, be it the Eastern Europe of the nineties or the Middle East at the outset of the new millennium” — wrote Magyar Nemzet, which was back then as well as now a close ally of Fidesz.

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