BUDAPEST, Hungary — Matt Schlapp, the organizer of the hugely influential Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), does not know what “independent media” means.
“I don’t know what these terms mean—what do you mean by independent?” Schlapp said in an interview outside the CPAC conference, which kicked off in the Hungarian capital on Thursday.
Schlapp was speaking outside the conference center on the banks of the Danube, because the Hungarian organizers CPAC has partnered with to host the event had refused entry to all journalists from U.S. media outlets, despite months of effort to obtain press credentials for the event.
Besides VICE News, journalists from Rolling Stone, Vox Media, and the New Yorker were turned away from the conference on Thursday, despite repeated assurances from the American Conservative Union that access would be provided. Journalists from other non-Hungarian media outlets, including the Guardian and Associated Press, tweeted that they had also been denied accreditation, despite months of requests.
After this article was published a CBS report claimed that one of its reporters had succeeded in gaining access to the conference. VICE News contacted the reporter, who confirmed that they had been granted access by the organizers, but only after the ACU intervened on their behalf.
The denial of access to the conference will once again raise one of the main criticisms of Hungary’s authoritarian leader, Viktor Orbán, who has spent much of his 12-year reign crushing any independent media in the country.
During his keynote speech Thursday morning, Orbán outlined a 12-point plan for U.S. conservatives to follow if they want to counter what he described as “progressive dominance.” One of the key points of his plan helped explain why no U.S.-based media was granted access to the conference.
“Number four, my dear friends, have your media. You can only present the stupidity of the leftist progressives if you have the media to do it. Leftist opinion can only seem to be a majority because the media helps them to increase their voice.”
Dan Schneider, the executive director of the American Conservative Union, which runs CPAC, said in an interview outside the conference that the ACU was only a “co-host” of the event.
“We do these CPACs around the world and we always have partners on the ground who take the lead, and those partners are the ones who make the decisions, so those are the decisions of the Center for Fundamental Rights.”
The Center for Fundamental Rights is a right-wing think tank funded by the Hungarian government.
Schneider then repeated the line the CFR had rolled out when asked about access to the conference: “They’ve provided a link so anybody in the press can watch the entire program live so they can cover it.”
But in the next breath, Schneider admitted it was crucial for journalists to have direct access to attendees and speakers at conferences such as this.
“There is a real advantage for the press to be able to get the flavor of a story by being physically present there, and there’s a real advantage to having immediate access to attendees and ask questions.”
Schneider told members of the press that he could work to take requests for interviews to attendees and see if they would come out of the conference to talk to the non-Hungarian outlets.
One of those who agreed to speak to the U.S. media was Schlapp, who said he’s been interviewed by local Hungarian journalists since arriving in the country. He claimed those journalists have “more values than I have, than what the media has in America.”
When asked why no U.S. journalists were allowed into the conference, Schlapp said he had spoken to a number of foreign journalists, though he couldn’t name them or where they were from.
“I know you think there should be a certain protocol to how the media is always handled. Our view at our CPAC events is that we always try to include as much media as possible. Every CPAC in their own county has their own policies and they will follow them. As far as us coming here, we will try and answer your questions,” Schlapp said.
This story has been updated.
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