On June 25, 444 was the only Hungarian news portal included in the Russian Foreign Ministry's ban list, which restricts access to 81 European news services, listed by country.

This move was a response to the EU Council's decision on May 17, effective June 25, to ban "all broadcasting activities" of three Russian media outlets: RIA Novosti, Izvestia Media Information Centre, and Rossiyskaya Gazeta. On the day the ban was announced, we contacted the Russian embassy, which explained the ban on 444 on its Telegram channel using the hashtags #FreedomofthePress, #RussiaMedia, and #RussiaHungary. "The Hungarian source was listed for systematically spreading inaccurate information about the special military operation in Ukraine. The confirmation of this can be found in several publications of 444," the post reads.

We have been publishing most of our articles on the Russian invasion of Ukraine within TEFI since the project was launched, so we are particularly proud that we are not reporting on the war according to the taste of Russian propaganda. Among our TEFI partners, SME is also on the banned list.

The Russian sanctions affecting 444 and several major European newspapers were to be condemned by the EU in a joint statement, but the Hungarian government was the only one to block it on Wednesday. As a result, Josep Borrell had to issue the statement independently.

Máté Paczolay, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, confirmed that Hungary was the only member state that did not contribute to the adoption of the joint EU statement. The reason is that the EU also decided to withdraw the European broadcasting rights of three Russian media outlets together with the declaration. In Hungary's view, banning the three Russian media was already contrary to European values of freedom of the press, and "the Russian reaction to this clearly shows that any such decision and manifestation will lead to severe retaliatory measures from the Russian side, which is contrary to the interests of the Union."

According to the Hungarian government, the statement could only have led to further Russian retaliation. It is difficult to explain why the Hungarian government did not contribute to the adoption of the joint statement when a Hungarian media outlet was on the Russian ban list. Viktor Orbán has never appeared independent regarding Russia. With this step, he has essentially admitted openly that he no longer has enough leeway from Moscow to maintain even a semblance of sovereignty.

After all, all countries, regardless of their form of government—whether liberal, conservative, left-wing, fascist, Nazi, or even a royal house—outwardly protect their citizens when others harm them. This protection is a fundamental aspect of sovereignty, irrespective of what the current leadership thinks of those citizens. This stand has nothing to do with what the country personally thinks of those it stands up for abroad.

It is not sad and inexplicable because it is about us. In fact, the whole thing is just instant publicity for 444. From our point of view, the best scenario is for the Fidesz government, in alliance with Moscow, to turn openly against us.

However, if we broaden our perspective, there are few things sadder than the Hungarian government not defending a Hungarian newspaper when attacked by a foreign power. It is the same as not protecting a Hungarian citizen who is physically attacked abroad. We are not talking about one Hungarian citizen but about 70. The principle and the resulting practice, which is not only a democratic minimum but also a practice in autocracies, is that a country unable to protect those who make it up appears weak.

It is worth comparing this reaction of the Hungarian Government with, for example, when Ukraine put another Hungarian company, OTP, on the blacklist of international sponsors of war. The Hungarian government protested vehemently and many times, later refusing to vote in favor of EU aid to Ukraine, citing this as an excuse.

Moreover, the Hungarian government has not only failed to protect us from Putin, but it has actively prevented all EU countries from doing so as a united front, all in the interests of Vladimir Putin.

Anyone who does not treat all his citizens equally is treating all his citizens badly. He who is selective and refuses to represent X now will do the same to Y next. The Fidesz government is thus cutting down the tree beneath itself in the long term. Everyone knows that where there are exceptions, he too may one day be an exception.


This article was written in the framework of The Eastern Frontier Initiative (TEFI) project. TEFI is a collaboration of independent publishers from Central and Eastern Europe, to foster common thinking and cooperation on European security issues in the region. The project aims to promote knowledge sharing in the European press and contribute to a more resilient European democracy.

Members of the consortium are 444 (Hungary), Gazeta Wyborcza (Poland), SME (Slovakia), PressOne (Romania), and Bellingcat (The Netherlands).

The TEFI project is co-financed by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Education and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA). Neither the European Union nor EACEA can be held responsible for them.