A legal opinion commissioned by the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) finds that the Hungarian Government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic fails to live up to domestic or European legal standards and entrenches the country’s attacks on independent media outlets, journalists and media workers.
In March 2020, the Hungarian Government proclaimed a State of Danger, passed a number of decrees and adopted a new bill; the Authorisation Act, in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Authorisation Act gave the Government enhanced powers to rule by decree, enabling it to bring forward, amend or withdraw legislation and amend the Hungarian Criminal Code to expand the definition of the crime of “Scaremongering”. Due to the ruling party coalition’s two-thirds majority in Parliament, these changes were swiftly adopted and implemented. Recently, the Hungarian Government has stated its intention to repeal the State of Danger. However, it is unclear whether this repeal will cover all changes made and what mechanisms will be in place to identify and address the short- and long-term impact of these amendments on media freedom.
“The Hungarian Government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates their willingness to use any excuse to restrict and attack media freedom”, says Dr. Polyák Gábor, author of the legal opinion. “Without an independent Constitutional Court or any other adequate check on state power in Hungary, these actions that violate both Hungarian and European law can continue to demonise, isolate and threaten journalists and media workers. While the COVID-19 pandemic will come to an end, the pandemic of threats to media freedom looks set to continue in Hungary”