The venture capital firm set to acquire pan-European media outlet Euronews has long-standing personal and professional ties to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who has drawn widespread criticism for having presided over a recent worsening of media pluralism in Hungary.
Mário David, a former MEP and the father of Alpac Capital’s CEO, Pedro Vargas David, is a long-time associate of and advisor to Orbán, who this year became the first EU leader to be added to Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) annual “press freedom predators” list.
Euronews, which was envisioned at its 1992 launch as a European version of CNN, has been hit by financial difficulties in recent years but has since seen a turnaround in its fortunes.
Under the deal announced last Friday (17 December), Alpac Capital, which has offices in Lisbon, Budapest and Dubai, will buy an 88% share of Euronews from its current majority stakeholder, Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris.
According to the Hungarian government website, Mário David, who served as an MEP between 2009 and 2014 as well as vice-president of the European People’s Party group, currently provides Orbán with “expert advice on the European Union” free of charge, under a contract due to last until the end of the year.
In 2016, David was also the recipient of the Middle Cross of the Hungarian Order of Merit, awarded to him in Lisbon by Orbán. The award was given to him, President of Hungary János Áder said at the time, for “his consistent advancement of Hungarian interests and aspirations and the improvement of Hungary’s perception in Europe.”
The two politicians had been close friends during the twenty-five years they had known each other, David said in his acceptance speech, and have travelled together to attend events around Europe.
Hungarian media have also reported on CEO Pedro Vargas David’s ties to the country, notably Alpac Capital’s management of the €20 million East-West European Venture Capital Fund launched in 2017 to support the scaling up of SMEs in Hungary, Portugal and other countries.
Hungary was this year ranked 92nd out of 180 countries in RSF’s annual World Press Freedom Index and has been the subject of increasing attention due to increasing governmental attacks on and takeovers of independent media, along with the imposition of greater restrictions on journalists’ work and access to information.
A spokesperson for Alpac Capital, which aims to scale Euronews up to a much broader European level, told EURACTIV that “any concerns of a possible impact on Euronews’ editorial freedom are unfounded”.
The spokesperson said that Pedro Vargas David had spoken to Euronews employees earlier this week “where he relayed his commitment to Europe and espousing core tenets of the Union such as democracy and freedom”, and added:
“There will be no confusion of roles between the owner and the editorial staff.”
Euronews has also been the recipient of funding from the European Commission, with which it has an agreement that does not contain direct funding obligations but facilitates the creation of individual funding contracts. Under these, the outlet is set to have received €16 million this year.
According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, a Commission spokesperson said the EU executive had no stake in, nor any involvement in the internal affairs of, Euronews.
“That said, we are following developments closely to make sure that any changes in the company’s management or editorial workflows do not impact our contractual arrangements”, the spokesperson added.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]