Make the registering procedure for Orbán’s press conferences public!

The government is working hard to obscure the events and to confuse the public opinion following the banning of several editorial offices - including the staff of 24.hu, one of the most read online portals - from Orbán’s annual “Orbáninfo” last Thursday. While the fact alone that the Prime Minister is willing to expose himself -once a year - to journalists independent from the government is a rarity, it is decided entirely arbitrarily who may be given this opportunity and who will be denied entry.

Neither the staff of Átlátszó, nor of Direkt36 or of Mérce were granted entry to the Prime Minister’s annual press conference. 24.hu’s office received three different explanations within 24 hours regarding the grounds for the lockout. At first, the government reasoned that participants should have registered via telephone instead of per email, as the journalists did.

A couple of hours stating their first reason, Zoltán Kovács, the State Secretary for International Communication and Relations, stated that the staff of 24.hu had not arrived in time. This is refuted by the fact that the journalists had been at the venue shortly after 10 am, and the conference was scheduled for 11 am. By this time, it was obvious that the editorial office had not received any invitation for the event, but the reason for that remains unclear. In contrast, they had been allowed to attend the press conference the previous year.

The third explanation surfaced on the second day of ”Governmentinfo”. This time, Bertalan Havasi, the Prime Minister’s Press Chief, communicated that only those editorial offices invited to the event were those who regularly attended the ”Governmentinfo”-s during the year, where the journalists must make do with Gergely Gulyás, the Minister heading the Prime Minister’s Office, instead of Viktor Orbán.

It is apparent that there is an astonishing obfuscation regarding keeping 24.hu in the dark: the government has attempted to shift responsibility to the journalists, then, by referring to its own, internal regulations (which baffles any outsiders) and thereby proves once again that in Hungary the government is one of the main agents concerning the spread of misinformation.

This issue is not a new one. The registration procedure to the ”Governmentinfo” has been lacking transparency for years, and thus, the journalists never know when and what they should do to be able to attend these events – except for the ones who were informed thoroughly about its exact procedure well in advance.

In order to see the matter more clearly, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (TASZ) had previously filed and won a lawsuit against the Prime Minister’s Office: it was revealed that at the Prime Minister’s Office there is no one appointed to be responsible for handling registration requests and, therefore, there is no set procedure defined for evaluating and responding to inquiries.

If there is any event that is of high public interest and thus attracts the media’s attention, the Prime Minister's press conference certainly qualifies. The executive power and its head are duty-bound to inform the public to the fullest possible. One tool for that is being available to the journalists of the highest-access online newspapers and answering their questions.

Hence, the government must make the registration procedure transparent and publicly available in time. Otherwise, despotism and conflicting explanations remain regarding why given journalists are denied entry to the press conferences. The consequence of said obsequious: the further narrowing of publicity.

As long as the registration procedure is non-transparent, we can not help but find the same explanation for keeping certain news-portals disconnected: the government does not want to expose itself to representatives of the critical press and so to nip any inconvenient press coverage in the bud.

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