Posted on Apr 12, 2020
Under the cover of "fighting coronavirus" the Hungarian government has banned gender reassignment, legislated jail terms for "fake news", and has covertly taken control of theatres and other cultural activities.
On March 30th Prime Minister Orbán introduced an act that would grant him emergency powers for an indefinite period. Under the name of the “Coronavirus Bill” a legal document with no expiration date, giving him power to rule by decree was then voted into legislation by a compliant parliament which he can now bypass.
Under the new laws, anybody who “distorts facts” or publishes “false information” , which is considered by observers to mean anybody who disagrees with him, is liable to a five year jail term.
You want to approve this law, which practically authorises you to govern without any meaningful control. And it gives you a free hand to do away with even what’s left of the press and practically imprison journalists, doctors, and opposition lawmakers if we say things that you don’t like — namely, the truth.
Orbán has a history of silencing journalists. Reporters Without Borders, several days prior to Orbán's fait accompli on March 30th, the organisation wrote to the heads of the European Commission, Council, and Parliament expressing their concerns that the bill would "set a fearful precedent for other European Union member states tempted to follow Hungary’s example, and do untold damage to fundamental rights and democracy as well as undermining efforts to end the pandemic".
It is little surprise that Hungary, with its record of undermining media freedom, should be the first EU member state to make such an extreme and opportunistic power grab. The few remaining independent media outlets in the country are regularly attacked and accused of spreading 'fake news' for raising simple questions about the government’s preparedness and strategy for tackling the pandemic... We fear this is a step toward the complete repression of media freedom in Hungary that could outlive the pandemic.
Reporters Without Borders, in a letter co-signed by the Association of European Journalists (AEJ), European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), Free Press Unlimited (FPU), Index on Censorship, International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and International Press Institute (IPI) called upon the leaders to:
- Robustly oppose the measures currently before the Hungarian parliament and make it clear that the European Union will not accept the application of Emergency legislation that undermines fundamental human rights and media freedoms
- Demand that governments ensure full access for media professionals to decision makers and actors on the front line of the health crisis as well as the broader workings of government,
- Declare journalism and the free flow of information as essential to Europe’s efforts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.
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