Orban’s Media Machine Gears Up to Slam EU After Censure Vote

(Bloomberg) -- The immediate local media reaction may offer a glimpse at the on-the-ground reality behind the report adopted by the European Parliament to censure Hungary over the erosion of democratic standards.

An array of publications in control of the state or businessmen in Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s orbit sprang into action to amplify the government’s message after the vote. They echoed a portrayal of the proposed sanctions as fraudulent revenge by forces opposed to the premier’s anti-immigration policies.

The vote in Strasbourg, which Orban called an offense to the Hungarian people, also allowed journalists sympathetic to his views to further the narratives that have been central to his political campaigns in recent years.

"Brussels takes Soros’s side" and "Hoodwinked by lies" and “Revenge against Hungary,” cried some of the headlines in news websites friendly to the government. Another offered a selection of supportive messages on Orban’s Facebook account from across Europe. Though some reports included opposition voices, outlet after outlet gave top-line play to the interpretation of the events presented by the premier, his government and the ruling party.

The report by European lawmaker Judith Sargentini cited evidence that Hungarian editorial output has been consistently favoring the ruling coalition. It also listed a lack of “access to pluralistic information" and polemic against Hungarian-born financier George Soros among the symptoms of the country’s democratic backsliding.

For Orban, an even more bitter fight against an alleged cabal of enemies -- including Soros, liberals, "speculators," rights activists and EU bureaucrats -- may just be a useful way to keep his narrative going.

Much of the electorate is "receptive toward this type of communication, especially if the government links it with the safeguarding of national interest and rejecting Muslim immigration," said Attila Tibor Nagy of the Center for Fair Political Analysis in Budapest.

What remains of independent media ran headlines on Orban’s government having been "branded with shame" by the European Parliament. As the Hvg.hu news website pointed out, Orban may not even just be courting his electorate at home any more with his rhetoric, but the awakening populist forces he is thinking of uniting in in next year’s European elections.

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