Viktor Orban’s role behind the purchase of Euronews TV channel

Private records reveal that individuals connected to Hungary’s populist prime minister used funds in 2022 to acquire the struggling pan-European TV news channel, which has moved from Lyon to Brussels. This information was disclosed by Le Monde, a French media outlet, and Direct36, a Hungarian investigative media.

After relocating from Lyon, Euronews celebrated the debut of its new format in Brussels in March. The group’s headquarters moved from Lyon to the Belgian capital, and managing director Guillaume Dubois wants people to forget the protracted months of social unrest that have plagued the pan-European channel since Alpac, an enigmatic Portuguese investment fund, bought it out in 2022. In addition, the organization laid off 175 of its 370 employees.

Since Euronews’s acquisition, its unions have inquired about the new owners. The news channel has been consistently a loss-making media business since Egyptian entrepreneur Naguib Sawiris unexpectedly acquired it in 2015.

Early in 2022, the staff at Euronews welcomed Portuguese billionaire Pedro Vargas Santos David with nervous concerns about the new investor.

Direct36, the Hungarian media outlet, as well as Le Monde and Expresso, discovered that a significant portion of the funding came from a Hungary state capital fund and a well-known participant in the government’s propaganda apparatus. Leaked internal documents indicate that political objectives were also behind the investment.

This information shocked groups and individuals concerned about journalistic freedom in Europe, both inside and outside of the television industry. Concern arose because Mr. David was well-known to have deep personal and professional ties to Viktor Orbán’s government, which has severely restricted independent journalism in Hungary in recent years while assembling a massive propaganda apparatus, according to Direkt36.

Pedro Vargas Santos David claimed he was not the same as his father, Mario David, a political conservative from Portugal who has a warm relationship with Orbán.

David, however, kept the source of the deal’s funding a secret from the Euronews staff. In 2021, his company informed the Portuguese daily Expresso that no governmental funds were involved in the transaction, and none of the investors were Hungarian businessmen.

Furthermore, Viktor Orbán made efforts to dispel any speculation linking him or his party, Fidesz, to the agreement. During a press conference in December 2021, he asserted, “Fidesz does not have any plans for a world empire; I can say that for sure, and I cannot speak for business companies.”

An investigation by Direct36, Expresso, and the French newspaper Le Monde revealed that Hungarian state and government-related entities funded a significant portion of the €150 million acquisition.

Direkt36 obtained documents indicating that a Hungarian state capital fund contributed €45 million. The Ministry of Finance eventually turned over this business, known as Széchenyi Funds (SZTA), to a university foundation. The European Future Media Investment Fund, which later acquired Euronews, received these funds.

According to Direkt36’s study, the deal involves a corporation that plays a prominent role in the Hungarian government’s propaganda activities. Corporate records reveal that New Land Media, a Hungarian corporation, provided a long-term loan of €12.5 million to an investor in the European Future Media Investment Fund.

According to a recent Hungarian investigation, Gyula Balásy, whose companies have won agreements worth hundreds of billions of forints in government marketing campaigns over the past few years, owns this corporation. Antal Rogán, the head of the Prime Minister’s Cabinet Office, is one of Orbán’s closest trusted advisors, and he is in charge of these operations, the media claim.

Leaked documents imply that political objectives also prompted the channel’s acquisition, despite people familiar with Euronews’ internal operations saying there is no evidence the new owners are meddling in editorial choices.

According to the insider, those working on the investment were aware of the need for Euronews because Hungary was facing excessive criticism from other nations, and they wanted to improve the country’s reputation.

Guillaume Dubois, CEO of Euronews, said to Le Monde that he was unaware of the Hungarian government’s involvement in the transaction, but he claimed that he was not required to know the investors. He emphasized that the Hungarian government had no say in the matter.

Pedro Vargas Santos David and his business, Alpac Capital, did not answer inquiries from the investigative media.

According to the leaked presentation, Alpac intended to pay €170 million in total for the purchase. Euronews used the remaining 20 million to finance its planned reorganization, while the purchase price amounted to 150 million. According to leaked records seen by the investigative journalists, Hungary’s state funding played a significant role.

Under a multi-year agreement, the EU has been providing significant funds to Euronews; in 2022, it will receive €18.8 million, and in 2023, €12.2 million. The European Commission informed Le Monde that it will not renew after it ends in July of this year. Instead, the European Commission will conduct a fresh public tender, in which Euronews can participate if it meets the requirements.

In 2017, Euronews experienced financial issues and closed down the Ukrainian service, keeping the Russain one in times of Russia-Ukraine conflict, which prompted criticism. At that time, the multilingual pan-European TV channel’s major investor was the Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris.

The Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban is known not only for his tensions with the EU leadership but also for his pro-Russian statements and stance, especially when he blocked financial and military aid to Ukraine and opposed Ukraine’s accession to the European Union.

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