The Council of Europe has reported its concerns, throughout 14 pages, regarding the situation of the Hungarian freedom of the press.
The document, finalised on March 15, was written by the Council’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatovic, reports Népszava.hu. Prior to its preparation, several interviews were conducted, among others, with civil organisations, journalists and governmental officials. Judit Varga, Minister of Justice; Balázs Orbán, Under-Secretary of the Prime Minister’s Office; Mónika Karas, president of the National Media and Infocommunications Authority (NMHH) and Ákos Kozma, ombudsman were interviewed, for instance.
The first part of the report talks about the separation of powers. After analysing the situation, the report states that contrary to democracies paying attention to separate the three branches,
in Hungary, an unusual amount of power is concentrated in the hands of the authority supervising the media, the sector of telecommunication and the use of radio frequencies.
Moreover, since 2010 only delegates of the governing party make up the Council of Media, which is the decision-making body of the NMHH. Thus, the Council can be perceived as a clearly political body. It has the possibility to examine, investigate and introduce sanctions on media contents without clear parameters in its legal documents on what is considered a breach of law. The legal authority of the Committee on Digital Freedom set up last year by the Ministry of Justice to monitor the censorship of Facebook is also quite foggy.
The report separately mentions governmental decisions involving the media taken during the state of emergency caused by the pandemic, particularly the sanctions on false news and rumours causing general panic among the public. Altogether, 134 procedures were initiated based on the criminal Code. Though most of them were terminated and not carried out,
the high number of procedures on its own can mean that the press’s freedom was being compromised.
Moreover, certain governmental bodies referring to the state of alarm can prolong the time up to 45 days to answer public interest data. This hurts the freedom of information.
The document mentions the “law on drones” accepted last year, according to which one can receive a one-year prison sentence for taking pictures or videos of someone’s property without his permission. According to the Council of Europe, this very much endangers the functioning of the free press.
A separate section of the report deals with national and governmental advertisements deforming the sector and the market. As they say, on the course of last year,
86% of the amount sacrificed for advertisements landed in media companies’ pockets having ties to the government.
With the creation of KESMA, the organisation owning all municipal daily newspapers and many other media outlets, 200 journalists had lost their jobs. Furthermore, the mass/public media is broadcasting everything the government says, while for instance, it is forbidden to publish anything about international organisations such as Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International. The report also says that the
mass/public media works by direct editorial instructions in order to unanimously broadcast the government’s standpoint.
The report also mentions the sudden change in the ownership of Index, after
the silencing of Klubrádió, and Népszava, as the last oppositional, printed newspaper on public life. After conducting the interviews with the governmental officials, Dunja Mijatovic herself also experienced that most of them see criticism as an “evil propaganda against the government” or the “work of Soros agents”.
The document points out that for now, physical harm does not threaten journalists. However, it does not exclude the possibility that these campaigns of hatred will have this exact effect.
Finally, the report proposes solutions in 8 points to improve the situation. Among others, the modification of certain laws, the consultation with civil organisations and the condemnation of campaigns of hatred.