Orban Propaganda Machine Seeks Wider Reach With News Agency

(Bloomberg) -- News outlets channeling Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s views are expanding to a wider European stage after building a domestic hegemony and branching out to the Balkans.

V4 News Agency, or V4NA, was registered in London with 50 journalists to present events from the perspective of the so-called Visegrad Four group of eastern European countries that includes Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Poland, according to its website. It publishes in English and Hungarian and plans to add other languages later.

"We give a conservative, right-wing perspective" on political, economic and other news, V4NA said in an email.

Many of the portal’s initial offerings follow the themes of Orban’s anti-immigration rhetoric, with headlines such as "Migrant kills wife after she converts to Christianity," "Make her wear a headscarf!" and "Germany’s dual migration problem." It also features more mundane matters ranging from nutrition, tourism, movies -- and even a news item on stink bugs. Stories are currently behind a paywall, with no prices listed.

One of the highlights is an interview with Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto. Orban-friendly Hungarian news website Origo cited V4NA on Monday, calling it an “international news agency,” as having found a link between the European People’s Party and George Soros, the billionaire financier who’s a favorite foil for the anti-immigration rhetoric of the government in Budapest. The EPP recently suspended the membership of Orban’s Fidesz party.

Orban’s illiberal rule has relied heavily on an increasingly centralized propaganda machine based in Budapest, employing newspapers and broadcasters across Hungary to amplify his views. His close allies have also influenced elections in countries in the former Yugoslavia after buying up outlets in Slovenia and Macedonia. Until now, they hadn’t had a major foray further west in the mold of Russia’s Sputnik news website and the RT television network.

The @V4Agency twitter account became active on Monday with two tweets: one on Brexit and one citing Orban saying "Christian culture is the source of all power."

V4NA’s owners include a company linked to Arpad Habony, an Orban adviser who led his media push into the Balkans, as well as Hungary’s ambassador to London, the valaszonline.hu news website reported on Tuesday, citing a U.K. company registry. V4NA said in the email that it’s independent. It didn’t address questions on its ownership, and its website listed only the name of a content director, Tamas Toth, and no editors.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.