BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary's foreign ministry has summoned U.S. envoy David Kostelancik over a plan to fund rural media outlets in Hungary, which Budapest considers a "political intervention" ahead of an election due early next year.
The United States said on Monday it would devote $700,000 to fund rural media outlets in Hungary to help train and equip journalists in defense of an independent media it sees subject to growing pressure and intimidation.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has increased media control by legal changes, regulatory steps and takeovers of outlets by business sector associates. The moves have alarmed Western partners ahead of elections due in April 2018 which he is widely expected to win.
"The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has summoned the U.S. Chargé d'Affaires, asking for an explanation, and told him that we consider this a political intervention by the U.S. Department of State ahead of the elections," spokesman Tamas Menczer said in an emailed response.
The U.S. program offers technical and financial assistance to media outlets, as well as increased local and international exposure, small grants and other tools. They can use the funds after May 2018, after the election is due.
The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, an intergovernmental human rights and media freedom watchdog, has said media pluralism has declined in Hungary.
(Reporting by Krisztina Than and Gergely Szakacs; Editing by Catherine Evans)