‘Fake news!’ BBC accused of ‘twisting’ Hungarian chief’s words over Ukraine military row

Naga Munchetty reflects on how long she's worked at the BBC

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Zoltan Kovacs, Hungarian Secretary of State for International Communication and Relations lambasted BBC’s HARDtalk after he claimed they attempted to “twist” his words on Hungary’s Ukraine war stance.

The Hungarian politician said the BBC reporter tried to propagate the “fake news” Hungary does not support Ukraine’s right to defend itself from Russian attacks militarily.

Mr Kovacs was later forced to publish a post re-iterating his position, titled “Fake news alert: They just can’t stop twisting my words, can they”.

He wrote: “In an interview yesterday with BBC’s HARDtalk, I reiterated Hungary’s long-standing policy on the war in Ukraine. There was nothing new in what I said. Interestingly, some propagators of fake news thought it was their once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to twist my words into some good, old-fashioned fake news.

“Here’s how the conversation really went on BBC’s HARDtalk yesterday:

“Reporter: ‘Do you support Ukraine’s current resistance, its defence of its territory, by military means against the Russian aggressor? Yes or no.’

“‘We do support Ukraine but not by military means,’ I responded.

“Then the reporter completely twisted what I was saying.

“‘You don’t support Ukraine using military means to defend its territory?’ asked the BBC reporter completely ignoring what I had just said and what has been the stated position of this government since the beginning.

“Instead, he was after a sensational sound byte, trying to say that Hungary does not support Ukraine’s right to defend itself.

“My reply of ‘That’s right’ was me repeating that Hungary will not provide military aid. The crazy notion that Hungary wouldn’t support Ukraine’s right to defend itself is just that — crazy. We have been absolutely clear from the beginning: Hungary supports the independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine. Every country has the right to defend itself.

“Shortly afterwards, a reporter at left-wing Telex, more than happy to play the BBC’s game of ‘gotcha,’ then took to Twitter with the twisted story and the fake news was off and running.

“It’s really a shame that this is what international, mainstream journalism sinks to: striving to make headlines by twisting my words and spreading fake news.”

The row comes as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said his government cannot support the European Union’s new sanctions package, which includes an embargo on oil imports, in its present form.

Mr Orban said the European Commission’s current proposal banning Russian oil imports would amount to an “atomic bomb” dropped on the Hungarian economy, adding that Hungary was ready to negotiate if it sees a new proposal that would meet Hungarian interests.

The European Union’s executive on Wednesday proposed the toughest package of sanctions yet against Moscow for its war in Ukraine, but several countries worried about the impact of cutting off Russia oil imports stood in the way of agreement.

A handful of eastern EU countries are concerned that the halt would not allow them enough time to adapt, even though diplomats said Hungary and Slovakia would be given until the end of 2023.

Mr Orban told state radio that Hungary would need 5 years and make huge investments in its refineries and pipelines to be able to transform its current system which relies about 65 percent on Russian oil.

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“We know exactly what we need, first of all we need 5 years for this whole process to be completed… 1-1.5 years is not enough for anything,” Mr Orban said, adding that Hungary would also need vast investment in refineries and the shipping system to allow imports of non-Russian oil.

Mr Orban questioned whether it was wise to make investments on that scale for a result in 4 to 5 years time, while the war in Ukraine was happening now.

“I don’t want to confront the EU but to cooperate….but this is only possible if they take our interests into account.”

He also said Hungary would not support the blacklisting of the head of the Kremlin-allied Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, as this was an “issue of religious freedom.”

He reiterated Hungary’s position not to send any weapons to neighbouring Ukraine as those shipments would become targets of Russian attacks in the area beyond the border in western Ukraine where ethnic Hungarians live, he said.

Express.co.uk has contacted the BBC for comment

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