GOP lawmaker asks State Dept to stop funding independent media in Hungary

GOP lawmaker asks State Dept to stop funding independent media in Hungary
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A GOP congressman is asking lawmakers to sign onto a letter urging the State Department to pull funding for independent media in Hungary. 

In a "Dear Colleague" letter, Rep. Andy HarrisAndrew (Andy) Peter HarrisConservatives call on Pelosi to cancel August recess GOP put on the back foot by Trump's race storm The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump creates new firestorm with 'go back' remarks MORE (R-Md.) decried actions by the U.S. that he said "distorted the record" of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, saying that the State Department's decision to put up funding for "opposition media" in the country amounted to meddling in the domestic politics of a democratic ally.

"Prime Minister Orban has been a vocal supporter of President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump pushes back on recent polling data, says internal numbers are 'strongest we've had so far' Illinois state lawmaker apologizes for photos depicting mock assassination of Trump Scaramucci assembling team of former Cabinet members to speak out against Trump MORE since early on in the campaign and Orban's approaches to many policy issues ... closely mirror those of President Trump," Harris wrote in the letter, which was obtained by Politico Europe.

Orbán has pointed fingers at Hungarian-American billionaire financier George Soros, whose Open Society Foundation funds liberal nonprofit groups and nongovernmental organizations around the world, including in Hungary.

Last year, the country's parliament passed a law that appeared to be geared toward forcing the closure of Central European University, a school founded by Soros. That move was condemned by the U.S., which accused the Hungarian government of placing "discriminatory, onerous requirements" on the institution. 

"Just as President Trump has declared 'America First' so too has Hungary pursued its own national interests, many times in the face of liberal, Soros funded, opposition," Harris added. 

Harris railed against a plan announced by the State Department in November that seeks to provide as much as $700,000 in funding to "increase citizens’ access to objective information about domestic and global issues of public importance."

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That announcement came amid growing concern from the U.S. and European countries over Orbán's efforts to increase control over the media.

In October, David Kostelancik, the chargé d'affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Budapest, warned that the number of independent news outlets in Hungary was "dwindling" and that journalists were being subjected to growing "pressure and intimidation."

Harris's letter, however, cast the funding plan as an effort to bolster "opposition media" in Hungary, saying it "represents an escalation in the State Department's misguided antagonism of our democratic ally."

The position largely echoed that of the Hungarian government, which has accused the U.S. of trying to meddle in its politics.

A spokesperson for Harris did not immediately respond to The Hill's request for comment.

Orbán has touted a nationalistic agenda — much in the same vein as Trump — and has worked to crack down on refugees from the Middle East entering Hungary. His government faces new elections in April, though he is expected to win comfortably.