Funded by the European Commission (EC), the European Digital Media Observatory (EDMO), an independent institution controlled by the European University Institute in Florence, started its activity in 2020 for the official purpose of coordinating the work of the fact-finding centres and editorial offices set up in the Member States, the disciplinary research on fake news and the spread of disinformation, and the efforts of organizations involved in conscious media consumption and education related thereto. The project aims to increase the available scientific knowledge of online disinformation, while promoting the development of an EU market in fact-finding services and supporting authorities responsible for controlling digital media and developing new policies. The Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) contributes EUR 2.5 million (almost HUF 900 million) to the implementation of EDMO’s infrastructure project.
The EU’s anti-disinformation strategy has been implemented in two phases. The first was the establishment and development of EDMO’s organization and infrastructure, and the second was the EC’s EUR 9 million (approximately HUF 3.2 billion) call for proposals for the establishment of national and regional information centres revealing misinformation. Magyar Jeti Zrt. took part in and won the tender funded by CEF, thus obtaining the right and support to establish the Hungarian Digital Media Observatory (HDMO). The Media Universalis Foundation will be responsible for the research related thereto. The joint-stock company, which also publishes anti-government 444 and Qubit, will cooperate with the French news agency AFP, which previously won the tender.
Regarding the political orientation of the European Commission, we have pointed out in several analyses that it is biased towards globalism and the ideology of open societies, and that the body can be linked to George Soros in several respects. We can see that in the run-up to the 2022 parliamentary elections, the billionaire speculator in stock market and his allies in Brussels are mobilising significant financial and human resources to enable the Hungarian left, controlled by Ferenc Gyurcsány, to come to power, thus implementing compatible government policy with the creation of an open society. One step was the visit of the delegation of the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) to Hungary, where five of the seven delegates regularly engage in anti-Hungarian rhetoric, and these MEPs are compiling a report on the rule of law in Hungary. This is also the purpose of the passages of the EU budget for the 2021-2027 period that allocate EUR 1.8 billion for the Justice, Rights and Values Program, which can also provide significant financial support for non-governmental organizations (NGOs), which seek to gain political influence and weaken nation states.
The creation of HDMO can be seen as another attack on national-based governance and right-wing thinking in general and can thus be considered as an intervention in Hungarian affairs as well as next year’s elections on the part of the opposition. The clearest evidence of the political bias of the new Hungarian “observatory” is to look at which organizations’ delegates receive resources and authority to practice online censorship: the fact-finding editorial staff will be headed by Direkt36’s “investigative journalist” and assisted by the former editor-in-chief of Mérce and a publicist of 444, who will be trained by AFP, which operates centres like HDMO in several countries, to achieve EDMO’s objectives.
The first man in the observatory learned fact-finding from members of the Bellingcat and New York Times Visual Investigations teams. The editorial of the New York Times is characterised by subjective journalism. At the newspaper, the word “black” is written in capital letters if it refers to a person, while the word “white” is written in small letters, in accordance with grammatical rules. Bellingcat is less known around the world, but by visiting its website, you can find out what issues it is dealing with, which countries it is focusing on, and which extreme political trend it is following. The latter organization received a support of USD 5,000 in 2016, USD 88,000 in 2017, USD 290,000 in 2018, and USD 12,000 in 2019, a total of USD 395,000, approximately HUF 123 million from the Open Society Foundation, which can be linked to George Soros. So, it is not surprising why Bellingcat “investigators” are following this trend.
Direkt36 received USD 50,000 in 2016, USD 95,823 in 2018, and USD 47,430 in 2019 from the Soros Foundation, which was a total revenue of HUF 60,330,000 for Direkt36 Újságíró Központ Nonprofit Kft. In a Facebook post on 12 April 2018, the portal said: “We are very proud that organizations – including OSF – that fight for civil liberties and human equality around the world, considered us to be worthy of support.”
The independence of 444 is also questionable. Péter Uj editor-in-chief said in an interview in 2016: “In 2014, about a year after the start-up, a US investment fund called Digital News Ventures (DNV) bought a 20 percent stake in Magyar Jeti Zrt. with a capital injection of half a million dollars.” Digital News Ventures (DNV) operates as part of the Media Development Investment Fund (MDIF), one of the main sponsors of which is the Open Society Foundation. Thus, Magyar Jeti Zrt., the winner of the tender and the publisher of 444 as well, is not a negligible actor. It is directly managed by the people of Soros, who also hold leading positions in another organization that is generously financed by him. Among the members of the Board of Directors of Magyar Jeti Zrt. is Marie Nemcova, who is also the Chief Operating Officer of MDIF. MDIF received USD 1,400,000 in 2016, USD 1,000,000 in 2018 and USD 9,790 in 2019, a total of approximately HUF 750,000,000 over three years from the Open Society Foundation. However, it is not Nemcova’s most direct connection with George Soros. She was the program manager of OSF in Prague between 1994 and 1998, which means that the Czech economist is an old Central European confidant of the speculator in stock market. Valer Kot, senior media consultant of MDIF, is also a member of the Board of Directors of Magyar Jeti Zrt. With these figures having such relationships and connected to the international left-wing network at several points, it is clear to the publisher’s senior officials why and what 444 received support for from the European Commission.
The Media Universalis Foundation, which is responsible for “related research” and can be linked to Ferenc Gyurcsány, was not left out of the Soros funding, receiving USD 11,765 or approximately HUF 3.6 million from the Open Society Foundation in 2017. It is headed by Ferenc Hammer, a sociologist who is constantly criticising the government and appeared as a speaker in opposition protests earlier.
In carrying out the work ordered by the European Commission and in the preparation thereof, AFP will work with HDMO. The name of the French news agency became more widespread in the Hungarian public when it was revealed that Facebook would start its fact-finding program in Hungary in cooperation with AFP from March 2021. The company has specialised in “fact-finding” since 2017 and has grown to become a key partner of Facebook. The European coordinator of AFP’s Fact-Finding Division told Mandiner: “We employ about a hundred journalists in this department, who watch the news in 18 languages. Our Hungarian and Bulgarian fact-finding work will start in the coming weeks, so we will be working in 20 languages.” Basically, a full international editorial office has been set up to filter out “disinformation”, which, however, is rather one-sided, and without disguising their political motivation, almost only right-wing voices have been silenced or reduced their reach by “professionals”, be it politicians with national sentiment, influencers, or just ordinary internet users. Factfinders have violated two fundamental rights as well: the fundamental right of access to information and freedom of expression, since an editorial office without any popular legitimacy, which is not bound by any legislation, cannot arbitrarily decide who can speak freely and when, and what information people can get access to of their own free will.
Regarding the independence of the European University Institute in Florence, which coordinates the entire EDMO project, its relationship with OSF should also be mentioned. As a matter of fact, it received USD 11,163 in 2019, whereas in 2020 it already received USD 110,000 and USD 50,000 in funding from the Foundation. Few universities receive support from an NGO twice a year, not to mention the value of more than HUF 50 million. So, it is likely that the organization providing the funding will expect some consideration in return for the funding.
In addition, it is more than worrisome that publishers and employees of media outlets that have made false statements or disseminated fake news countless times since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, jeopardising successful control, are given significant resources to “fact-check” and filter out disinformation.
On 7 April 2020, citing the World Health Organization, 444 stated that “the recommendation would be for countries to conduct as many tests as possible”. However, WHO had not made such a statement, the global organization said that the decision to test should be based on clinical and epidemiological factors and be related to the likelihood of infection. In the case of asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic clients, PCR testing should be considered if they have contacted patients with coronavirus or it is justified by local circumstances.
On 10 April 2020, regarding the epidemiological information, 444 wrote that “the control of the virus has been taken over by the government one hundred percent, depriving mayors of the most basic information necessary for the control…” However, the reality was that it was unique in Europe that an Operational Group held intensive press conference on a daily basis, and the government decided to grant a special license to the mayors so that they could create and introduce additional special and stricter rules for their own settlement at Easter. Prior to the extension of the movement restrictions, mayors were listened to, the police were consulted, epidemiologists were interviewed, and scientists’ opinions were gathered, which leaves the liberal allegations completely unfounded.
444 also used the most indecent means of the left and incited the population against the government with the death toll. As they stated on 12 April 2020, “Hungary still has the worst mortality rate in the region”. According to data as of 14 April 2020, the number of deaths per 100,000 inhabitants in Austria was 4.32, in Slovenia 2.67, in Romania 1.78, in the Czech Republic 1.37, while in Hungary this ratio was 1.22.