Press watchdog puts Hungarian PM Orban on ‘predators’ list

PARIS — Press watchdog Reporters Without Borders has put Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on its list of “predators,” the first time a Western European leader has been placed in the line-up of heads of state or government who “crack down massively” on press freedom.

The list published Monday includes 37 leaders.

Two women, the prime minister of Bangladesh and the Hong Kong’s administrative chief, also were added to the list, as well as Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. This was the first time in five years that the watchdog, known by its French initials RSF, has published its press freedom predator’s list.

The report said Orban “has steadily and effectively undermined media pluralism and independence since being returned to power in 2010” by using “varied predatory techniques.”

“The methods may be subtle or brazen, but they are always efficient,” the report said, citing control over 80% of the media via purchases by oligarchs close to Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party. Private media in Hungary are discriminated against in access to information and government advertising and denigrated as purveyors of “fake news,” the report said.

Lashing back, Hungarian government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs slammed the France-based RSF, saying “they should be called ‘Fake News Without Borders.’” Tamas Deutsch, a founding member of Orban’s Fidesz party and a European Parliament lawmaker, wrote on Facebook that the report was the part of “the latest wave of attacks against Hungary.”

Others curbing media freedoms included Bin Salman, the 35-year-old crown prince of Saudi Arabia, who wields day-to-day power in the kingdom.

“His repressive methods include spying and threats that have sometimes led to abduction, torture and other unthinkable acts. Jamal Khashoggi’s horrific murder exposed a predatory method that is simply barbaric,” the RSF report said.

Khashoggi was a Saudi journalist who visited the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul to procure documents to marry and was brutally slain inside it in 2018.

Women appeared on the press predators list, too.

Carrie Lam, chief executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region since 2017, “has proved to be the puppet of Chinese President Xi Jinping, and now openly supports his predatory policies towards the media,” the report said. It noted the recent closing of Hong Kong’s leading independent newspaper, Apple Daily, and the jailing of its founder, Jimmy Lai.

Lam was joined on the predator list by Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh’s prime minister since 2009.

“Her predatory exploits include the adoption of a digital security law in 2018 that has led to more than 70 journalists and bloggers being prosecuted,” RSF said.

The watchdog’s chief urged world governments to disavow the practices used by the leaders it singled out and to recognize the positive contributions made by an independent press.

“We must not let their methods become the new normal,” the report quoted RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire as saying of the leaders that his group deemed predators.