30 Mar 2020 Lvl. 1
No state reply yet
Alert created on: 23 Mar 2020 n° 30/2020 Hungary

Hungary Seeks Power to Jail Journalists over ‘False Information’ in COVID-19 Coverage

Source of threatState
CategoryOther acts having chilling effects on media freedom
Partner IPI Article 19 AEJ ECPMF EFJ/IFJ RSF
No state reply yet
Partner IPI Article 19 AEJ ECPMF EFJ/IFJ RSF
On 23 March 2020, the Hungarian parliament began debating draft legislation that would allow Prime Minister Viktor Orban to indefinitely extend the current state of emergency over the COVID-19 pandemic, essentially amounting to rule by decree. It would also allow the government to punish the spreading of “false information” deemed to harm the fight against the virus with up to five years in prison. The emergency legislation required 80% of the parliamentary vote to pass and was rejected by MPs. However, the government can return to parliament in a week’s time and only require a two-thirds majority to obtain the extraordinary powers. The move has sparked concern that as well as tackling legitimate misinformation, the Hungarian government might also use the new powers to threaten independent and critical journalists with criminal prosecution and imprisonment, while also further strengthening its control over information in the country. Over the past week, the Orban government, aided by pro-government media, has accused independent media outlets of spreading “fake news” for asking questions about the government’s preparedness and handling of the crisis. Rights groups have warned the legislation would hand Mr Orban wide ranging powers to extend any draconian restrictions without a “sunset clause” that would see the measures lifted after the end of the health crisis.
Updates
30 Mar 2020
On 30 March 2020, the Lower Chamber of the Hungarian Parliament passed the law allowing the Prime Minister to rule by decree in response to the coronavirus outbreak with 137 votes against 52.
Follow-ups
24 Mar 2020
Council of Europe Secretary General writes to Victor Orbán regarding COVID-19 state of emergency in Hungary
23 Mar 2020
Сoronavirus response bill should not impede the work of the media in Hungary, says OSCE Media Freedom Representative
Open in a new window show-link