Two foreign correspondents said recently that their critical attitude makes them feel unwelcome by the Hungarian government.
BBC correspondent Nick Thorpe has been working in Hungary for almost 30 years. He told BBC radio on Saturday that the attitude of the ruling Fidesz party’s politicians towards him has changed. Thorpe recalled an incident, when in the socialist era (before 1989) he was summoned to the Hungarian foreign ministry and he was told “not to intervene in Hungary’s internal affairs”. He was under investigation, and according to Thorpe, the pressure of the state MSZMP party only eased after the intervention of the British foreign secretary.
Thorpe said he had a déja vu when the current government spokesman, Zoltan Kovacs told him in 2017 that “foreign correspondents shouldn’t be intervening in Hungarian internal affairs”.
At the weekly Kormanyinfo conference last Thursday – which is conducted by the Minister Heading the Prime Minister’s Office Janos Lazar and the government spokesman – Kovacs got into another conflict with Dan Nolan, a freelancer correspondent. As seen on a video, Nolan took the microphone from the previous questioner and begins to speak in English, while normally at the Kormanyinfo journalists can pose a question after being granted permission by the spokesperson or press officer present and they speak Hungarian. Kovacs reminded him that this is out of order and when Nolan continued to speak, the spokesman warned him that he would be escorted from the room. Kovacs wrote in a recent blog post that Nolan didn’t respect the rules, and accused him – referring to his “biased” coverage of Hungarian events – of being “more partisan activist than professional journalist”.
Kovacs referred in his post to Nolan as the correspondent of The Guardian, but Nolan told Hungarian left-wing news site Merce.hu that he’s independent, he has been working for among others The Guardian, Budapest Beacon and on Thursday he was reporting for Al Jazeera. He said he was forced to ask Kovacs this way, because two weeks before he had been rejecting his interview request. “His job is to speak to foreign correspndents. As he’s not willing to do that, he forced me to do my job this way”, Nolan explained.