free speech association

Threats to free speech association & media

Civil Society Organisations as “foreign agents”

Since June 2015, the Hungarian government has put pressure on those nongovernmental organizations who receive funding from foreign sources in ways that have had concerning implications for freedom of association and expression in the country. Prime Minister Orbán has publicly branded civil society as “foreign agents.”

Earlier this year the government conducted surprise financial inspections on three nongovernmental organizations administering foreign donor money, and smeared 13 other fund recipient NGOs, including leading human rights organizations, as “left-leaning” and “problematic.” There have also been investigations and raids launched into bodies distributing funds administering for NGOs, with, in some cases, the suspension of the organisations’ tax numbers, rendering them unable to issue invoices or to benefit from a scheme that allows tax payers to donate a portion of their income to the civil society and religious organizations of their choice.

Media Freedom Restrictions

The Hungarian government, under the guidance of the Prime Minister, continues to undermine freedom of the media in the country by introducing strong controls and issuing repeated interferences.

After taking office in May 2010, the government pushed through a media law package in parliament consisting of three new media laws without adequate public consultation. The media laws specify new content regulations for all media platforms, outline the authorities of the new media regulatory body, and set out sanctions for breaches of the laws. Among other things, the laws contain a vague provision on balanced content requirement that may have a chilling effect on media freedom.

Media freedom

These changes have received criticism internationally, including from the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission, Secretary General and Commissioner for Human Rights, as well as the European Commission. Nonetheless, the government has made only few token amendments.

Since the government’s re-election, there has been renewed pressure against the media in general and certain media outlets in particular. 2014 saw a number of very concerning legal changes undermining media freedom and free expression. For example: In May, the Constitutional Court ruled that operators of website are responsible, and can be fined, for any comments on blog posts or news that may violate the media law; in June, the parliament passed a law imposing taxes on advertising in the media, primarily affecting one of the few remaining independent TV channels in the country; and in October, the parliament proposed a new internet tax.

Along with international criticism, large-scale demonstrations happened in protest of the tax and, as a result, the government withdrew its legislative proposal.

Also in 2014, a TV station critical of the government (ATV), was ruled by the Supreme Court to have violated the media law’s restrictions on commentary by describing the far-right Jobbik party as “far-right” in a news cast; and the editor-in-chief of an independent news website, Origo, was fired after publishing a story on alleged misuse of public funds by the state secretary at the Prime Minister’s Office.

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