27 January 2011
Don’t clamp down on freedom of expression in Hungary

Two new laws have come into effect in Hungary on 1 January, which was also the day the country assumed the Presidency of the European Union for six months.

The restrictions contained in the new legislation on media, which are based on vague concepts such as “public interest”, leave journalists and editors unclear as to how to apply the law. The new legislation, which is regulated by a new media body with strong powers, places unnecessary and disproportionate restrictions on freedom of expression in Hungary going beyond the restrictions permitted under international [human rights] law on freedom of expression. Media found to be in breach of the legislation could face heavy fines and even closure.

Hungary is under an obligation to respect, protect and fulfil the right to freedom of expression which, under international human rights standards, notably Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Article 11 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, includes the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds. A free, uncensored and unhindered press and other media are essential for effective exercise of this right by everyone.

The new legislation impose restrictions on all media, whether broadcast, print or web-based, and whether public or privately owned, and apply also to foreign media.

Under international standards, any interference with the right to freedom of expression must meet a strict three part test, namely, it must be:

  • provided by law, and;
  • only for certain specified permissible purposes (for example, national security, public order or respect of the rights or reputations of others);  and
  • demonstrably necessary and proportionate for the achievement of one of those permissible purposes.

The legislation fails to meet this test. It must therefore be amended to ensure the freedom of expression of all including the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds.

Take action to call on the Hungarian government to amend the new media laws to bring them in line with international standards.

Image: Protest against the media legislation outside the Hungarian Parliament, Kossuth square, Budapest, Hungary, 27 January 2011. (c) Amnesty International (Photo: Ádám Szigeti)

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