Press freedom violations under scrutiny as MEPs vote on Hungary

By Jane Whyatt

MEPs have voted for an Article 7 procedure against Hungary because of human rights abuses including political interference in press and media freedom.

Press freedom violations under scrutiny as MEPs vote on Hungary  Judith Sargentini MEP. Photo: Screenshot from EP livestream

At the European Parliament’s September 2018 plenary session in Strasbourg, France, Rapporteur Judith Sargentini MEP (Green Party, Netherlands) presented the results of her fact-finding trip to Hungary, mandated by the EU Commission. It is a catalogue of criticisms.

Responding after the vote, Judith Sargentini said on Twitter:

I am so proud that my Hungary report has the support of the European Parliament, but this is foremost about the rights of Hungarian citizens. I thank my colleagues that stand for the protection of democracy and the rule of law, above their interest in party politics.

Hungarian MEP Benedek Javor (Green) told ECPMF:

"Today the European Parliament voted in favour of the Sargentini report concerning the situation of the rule of law in Hungary. The report has been adopted by a strong 2/3 majority, which means that the majority of the EP is convinced that the rule of law is endangered and systematically breached in Hungary and the Hungarian government is violating the rights and values enshrined in the Treaties."

I welcome the EP’s decision to finally stand up for Hungarian citizens and declare that Hungarian people also have the right to enjoy the European rights, values and protection, which guarantee their freedom, freedom of conscience, religion and freedom of expression in many other European countries.

Starting with the new media law of 2011 and including all the constitutional changes of the past seven years, the Sargentini report concluded that the EU Council needs to trigger the mechanism to restore the rule of law and fundamental rights in Hungary. 

The European Centre for Press and Media Freedom and its partners have also written an open letter to Hungary’s Viktor Orban condemning the Hir TV case, and greeted the European Parliament vote with a press release.

In the debate several MEPs stressed the need to bring Hungary back into the European family circle, and the report concludes:

Close friends do not shy away from telling each other the unpleasant truth.

Amongst the ’unpleasantness’ listed in the opinion reported to Parliament from the European Parliament’s CULT culture committee are eleven examples of  attacks on press and media freedom in Hungary. They include outrage that the media council has failed to guarantee even the minimum levels of political independence in the media. This is borne out by scientific research at the Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom, which shows a red alert in its Media Pluralism Monitor results on Hungary. 

Press freedom violations under scrutiny as MEPs vote on Hungary Infographic from CMPF Media Pluralism Monitor

The Culture Committee’s opinion, presented by Petra Kammereverts MEP, equally deplores the fact that spending on state advertising was higher in 2017 than ever before, and that state advertisements are typically awarded to media that are loyal to the government, and predominantly controlled by oligarchs. Citing the enforced sale and closure of the independent newspaper Népszabadság, and the public service broadcaster’s pro-government, anti-refugee campaigns, the report notes too that journalists are often hindered in their research. Places for journalists to interview politicians in the parliament building are restricted and the pro-government website recently published a blacklist of journalists working for foreign media, who are described as "foreign propagandists for George Soros"

Benedek Javor MEP comments:

"During this summer it took only one day to change an independent TV channel into a government propaganda channel after the previous owner sold it to a government friendly businessman. The government put pressure constantly on government critical media, within the past 2 years the two biggest political daily newspaper was shut down. I am very much hoping that today’s decision will finally move us into the right direction concerning media freedom."

Debating the resolution, Petra Kammereverts MEP stressed: “Things are bad for research, for academic freedom and for press freedom. And they are getting worse. The Hungarian government continues to trample on the fundamental rights of the European Union“

On behalf of the European Commission, Frans Timmermanns warned:

The Commission will not hesitate to take further action. We will be relentless.

The next steps in the process must be taken by the Council of the European Union, which currently is in the hands of the Austrian presidency. Here is what might happen... 


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