Human Rights Commissioner’s report critical of Hungary’s media freedom

Nils Muiznieks

The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) has welcomed today the report on Hungary by the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, Mr. Nils Muižnieks, criticising the country’s bad media freedom records and calling for changes to the media law.

Judit Acsay, the Vice-President of the EFJ affiliate in Hungary (MÚOSZ), says “the report accurately summarises the state of media freedom in Hungary. I hope this will put pressure on the government to push for changes.”

The report published today (16/12/2014) after Mr. Muižnieks’s visit to Hungary in July 2014 has examined various aspects relating to human rights in Hungary ranging from media freedom to discriminations. Mr. Muižnieks has criticised that the media package that has been passed by the parliament has a chilling effect on journalistic freedom. He has called for changes to be made within the Media Act and an extension of the protection of journalists’ sources to freelances, as well as the exclusion of print and online media from the media register.

“The findings of this report show the extent of legal restrictions facing journalists and the media that contradicts international and European standards on freedom of expression and information. This is a clear case in which the government is abusing the law to muzzle the media.” says Mogens Blicher Bjerregård, EFJ President.

Recent media reports show that a controversial government plan to conduct mandatory drug tests of politicians and journalists with the aim to fight against drug abuses has received support from the Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

“This is another ridiculous idea from the government”, says Mogens Blicher Bjerregård, EFJ President, “and it should be scrapped immediately.”

The EFJ calls on the European Commission to take actions on the state of media freedom in Hungary and further its cooperation with other international institutions like the Council of Europe to safeguard Europe’s democratic values and media freedom.

Capture d’écran 2014-12-16 à 19.37.19The report also detailed various media problems as a result of the adoption of a media package. In 2010, Hungarian government adopted two main texts on media regulation: the Media Act and the Press Freedom Act.

The Commissioner’s report listed of the impact of this “media package” on journalists’ work in Hungary :

  • Severe sanctions result in self-censorship among journalists and media organisations. The sanctions, imposed by the Media Council, goes from the suspension of a media service provider to fines of 200 million HUF (approximately 650 000 EUR).
  • The Media Council and the Media Authority, which regulates media content, appear to be under political influence and control. “These bodies are led exclusively by members supported by the governing party.”
  • Protection of the sources doesn’t apply equally to all journalists. The Commissioner also notes that the law only protects the sources of those who are formally employed as journalists, but not the sources of freelance journalists.
  • The media package that obliges all media outlets to register before being authorised to provide media services is “contrary to the principles of proportionality established by the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights”.
  • Concentration of media-ownership results in a media market dominated by media linked to the ruling party.
  • The tax on advertising revenues restricts media to operate freely and therefore threaten Hungarian media pluralism. The government, which is the largest advertiser in the country, had withdrawn a large part of its advertising from independent media.
  • Defamation is considered as a crime and stifles investigative journalism.

The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) is the largest organisation of journalists in Europe, representing over 320. 000 journalists in 60 journalists’ organisations across 39 countries. 

(photo: Nils Muižnieks, the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe – echr.dk)

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