Index Awards: Tamas Bodoky on the refugee crisis, freedom of information and crowdfunding

Tamas Bodoky founder of

Tamas Bodoky founder of

Hungarians are polarised on the refugees making the journey to Europe. Hardliners support the government’s tough approach to curbing immigration, as do a large number of ordinary people. But many others are ashamed by what is happening, explains Tamas Bodoky.

The founder of Atlatszo, Index on Censorship’s award winner for digital activism in 2015, Bodoky blames the situation on the government’s campaign of painting migrants as dangerous enemies. “The mainstream and pro-government press is full of scaremongering, claiming refugees are terrorists, that they carry diseases and are taking work away from Hungarian people,” he says.

In a departure for the data-driven investigative journalism and freedom of information organisation, Atlatszo has been covering the human side of the situation by reporting on the experiences and views of asylum seekers since the government began trying to halt the flow of refugees in July. Bodoky and his team have covered conditions at the border and some travelled to Turkey to look at how refugees are crossing the Mediterranean.

“We have interviewed a lot of people at train stations and other ports,” Bodoky explains.

Early last month, Bodoky put together a short documentary capturing the chaotic events of 4 September 2015, when approximately 2,000 refugees attempted to walk from Budapest to Austria. They had been stuck in the Hungarian capital for days, many of them stranded in train stations without help. Late that night, after walking about 30 km, they were finally put on buses and taken to the Austrian border.

Since Index last spoke to Bodoky in June, the Hungarian government has — for the second time since 2010 — changed the law regarding freedom of information requests, which Atlatszo relies heavily on for its investigative work.

“They are charging fees so people won’t file so many requests,” says Bodoky, adding that while Atlatszo isn’t very happy with the situation, it won’t be deterred. “We will pay the small fee and continue to make requests, but citizens and activists who have started to use freedom of information quite a lot may not want or be able to,” he says.

Atlatszo’s readership has been steadily rising and the publication is now over 50% crowdfunded. Around 3,000 donors contribute monthly and the amount of money raised from the 1% of income tax Hungarian citizens can donate to NGOs they sympathise with has tripled for Atlatszo since last year.

MEDIUM-RECTANGLE-300Winning the Index Digital Activism Award has helped Atlatszo gain international attention. “We get a lot of press requests for quotes on important issues in Hungary,” says Bodoky. Staffers at Atlatszo have been acting as a source on the refugee crisis for international media outlets such The Guardian and have appeared on Al Jazeera’s Listening Post, a weekly programme examining the world’s media.

In the coming months, Bodoky says Atlatszo will “continue to work on anti-corruption, with articles on state subsidies and budget spending, which is our core business, and of course on the migrant crisis”.

Nominations for the 2016 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards are currently open. Act now.

Tamas Bodoky: The independence of journalism in Hungary is under threat

Hungarian journalist Tamás Bodoky founded the investigative news website to promote a free press in Hungary, a country where journalists and news organisations face recently introduced media taxes, a proposed internet tax for citizens, smear campaigns and police-run office raids. Bodoky has brought together a range of crowd-sourced approaches to empower citizens in the face of this deteriorating situation for human rights, including tools to allow for anonymous reporting of corruption, to help investigate freedom of information requests (and refusals), and MagyarLeaks, a Tor-based whistleblowing service. Last year was put on the government’s NGO blacklist, but Bodoky continues to run the site, as well as workshops to help keep investigative journalism in Hungary alive. He is the recipient of the 2015 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Award for Digital Activism. is calling on all those who believe that the independence of journalism in Hungary is under threat. All those who agree that politics and business interests have sunk their claws into everyday life. All those who know that taxpayer money is vanishing. We are calling on you to help us let the world know the truth.

Almost four years ago pledged to tackle the uphill battle represented by these challenges.

As a watchdog NGO for investigative journalism, we set out to promote transparency and freedom of information in Hungary. – “atlatszo” means transparent in Hungarian – produces investigative reports, accepts information from whistleblowers, files freedom of information requests, and commences freedom of information lawsuits in cases where those requests are refused.

We are only a small group of journalists, lawyers and IT-specialists. But since the beginnings we have won more than 60 percent of FOI lawsuits we initiated. In fact we have been so successful in the courtrooms that in 2013 the governing majority introduced a bill to curtail FOI legislation which was dubbed “Lex Átlátszó” by the Hungarian press.

Looking back to 2011, when was founded, I remember that many journalists dismissed the effort and were quite sure it wouldn’t last. We ignored these critics. We were confident that this was the way to go; to position ourselves outside the mainstream media, and to seek out alternative communication channels — because all of the main journalistic platforms were and still are severely constrained.

In Hungary, domestic journalism has come to represent the interests of local oligarchs. Multinational media firms are busy appeasing the political and economic powers that be. The advertising sector is a powerful censorship instrument – too often used to exert pressure. And every year since we started, the situation has become dramatically worse.

Now, the ruling political elite is pushing out its full arsenal. From business regulation to media control. From forcing personnel changes to diverting media outlets by prescribing countless directions. State funded public media has been reduced to a propaganda tool.

Most recently, the Hungarian government sparked a row over the foreign funding of local NGOs. The row has escalated to the extent that even groups advocating simple environmental concerns, or campaigning against corruption, are now being targeted. The only tangible reason to be found is that the government doesn’t appreciate funding going to any organization it doesn’t fully approve of.

I look at all of this, I look at my country, and I say one simple thing. I say Atlatszo will not be defeated. Hungary can have a fair and just democracy. Yes, it still can be done.

Thank you.

Journalist Tamas Bodoky (Photo: Alex Brenner for Index on Censorship)

Journalist Tamas Bodoky (Photo: Alex Brenner for Index on Censorship)

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This article was posted on 18 March 2015 at