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Key Developments

» Hungarian lawmakers adopt the criminalization of libel.

» Government ally nominated to head media regulator.

Hungary's record of press freedom and human rights deteriorated in 2013, resulting in calls from some European lawmakers to suspend the country's voting rights in the European Union. Authorities adopted controversial changes to the constitution in March, including a provision limiting pre-election political advertising solely to broadcasters--most of which are controlled by or affiliated with allies of Prime Minister Viktor Orban. The amendments also curtailed the powers of Hungary's Constitutional Court by taking away its right to strike down unconstitutional laws. After news outlets tried to investigate allegations of government corruption, lawmakers introduced amendments to the Freedom of Information Act, restricting the amount of government data that individuals and nongovernmental groups, including media outlets, could access. In August, Orban faced criticism from press freedom advocates after he nominated an ally of his party, Fidesz, to lead the national Media Authority, which regulates all domestic and international media--including print, broadcast, and the Internet--as well as their publishers and service providers. In November, the Hungarian Parliament adopted the criminalization of libel, two weeks after the amendment was proposed by lawmakers.

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    New legal threat
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    Recommendations to government
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    Years in prison
  • 370

    Lawmakers urge change of course

Authorities adopted amendments to Hungary's Constitution in March that critics said pose threats to press freedom, curtail independence of the judiciary, criminalize homelessness, impose limits on religious freedom, and violate other rights of Hungarian citizens.

Section 5 of Article 5 of the amendments reads: "The right to freedom of speech may not be exercised with the aim of violating the dignity of the Hungarian nation or of any national, ethnic, racial or religious community. Members of such communities shall be entitled to enforce their claims in court against the expression of opinion which violates their community, invoking the violation of their human dignity as determined by law."


In a May 2013 report, the international human rights organization Human Rights Watch analyzed media legislation that Orban's government adopted after assuming office three years ago. The report said the legislation "had a negative impact on media freedom," and contributed, among other things, to the loss of editorial independence and the rise of self-censorship.

Based on the report's findings, the organization urged Hungarian authorities to implement a set of specific steps.

Some of the HRW recommendations:
Restructure the Media Authority and Media Council to ensure independence from the government by establishing a multiparty nomination system.
Remove provisions imposing content regulation ensuring that media outlets and journalists can report freely without interference.
Decrease disproportionately high fines for violations against the media laws by journalists and the media and ensure that rules are clear and foreseeable to avoid arbitrariness by the Media Council when ruling on violations and fines.

Within two weeks in late 2013, the Hungarian Parliament proposed and adopted vaguely worded amendments to the criminal code that criminalized libel and carried up to three years in prison for violators of the law.

The amendments criminalized the act of creating and distributing audio or video recordings that are found to pose harm to an individual's dignity, local and international press freedom monitors reported.

Breakdown of the punitive terms:

1 year in prison:

to "those who make audio or video recordings of false, forged, or untrue content with the intention of discrediting other persons."

2 years in prison:

to "those who--again with the intention of discrediting--make such recordings accessible to others, even if they only show them to just one person."

3 years in prison:

to those who make the recordings available to the wider public; the same punishment is meted out if the recordings' contents are found to pose harm to the interests of others.

After the adoption in March 2013 of draconian amendments to the constitution, European lawmakers called for the suspension of Hungary's voting rights in the European Union under Article 7 of the EU Treaty. But the calls did not receive unilateral support in Parliament.

In a 370-to-249 vote, with 82 abstentions, lawmakers adopted a nonbinding resolution urging Hungary to bring its controversial legislation in line with European values. Among the recommendations made by the lawmakers was the guarantee of freedom of expression.

Some of the recommendations:
To observe the positive obligation arising from European Court of Human Rights jurisprudence under Article 10 ECHR to protect freedom of expression as one of the preconditions for a functioning democracy.
To respect, guarantee, protect and promote the fundamental right to freedom of expression and information, as well as media freedom and pluralism, and to refrain from developing or supporting mechanisms that threaten media freedom and journalistic and editorial independence.
To make sure that objective, legally binding procedures and mechanisms are in place for the selection and appointment of heads of public media, management boards, media councils, and regulatory bodies, in line with the principles of independence, integrity, experience and professionalism, representation of the entire political and social spectrum, legal certainty, and continuity.
To provide legal guarantees regarding full protection of the confidentiality-of-sources principle and to strictly apply related European Court of Human Rights case law.
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