The United Nations independent expert on the right to freedom of opinion and expression today voiced concern over Hungary’s recent controversial media law, saying it could be used to curb the freedom of the press.
“The media legislation still risks generating a climate of self-censorship,” despite some amendments introduced by Parliament last month, said UN Special Rapporteur Frank La Rue at the end of a visit to Hungary.
“Freedom of the media is an essential foundation of democracy. Hence, every State must ensure that every medium of communication, be it television, radio, press or the Internet, can convey diverse opinions, including those that shock, offend or disturb,” he said.
The law significantly expands State oversight over print and web-based media, while centralizing State media news production.
Mr. La Rue highlighted key elements of the law, including the prescription of media content, which he said was based “on vague concepts and insufficient guarantees to ensure the independence and impartiality of the regulatory body empowered to apply the law.”
He also drew attention to excessive fines and other administrative sanctions that can be imposed on media; broad scope of the law to regulate all types of media, including the press and the Internet; registration requirements for the operation of media service providers; and lack of sufficient protection of journalistic sources.
He deplored the lack of broad public consultations with representatives of the media, civil society and other stakeholders prior to the adoption of the law last year, but welcomed a pledge by the country’s Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights, Minorities and Religious Matters to engage in consultations.
“I am deeply grateful for the invitation by the Government to continue our ongoing dialogue and cooperation regarding the media legislation to bring it in line with Hungary’s international human rights obligations,” said Mr. La Rue.
“As the current Presidency of the Council of the European Union, I hope that the Government of Hungary will serve as a model in the region by fully guaranteeing the right to freedom of expression,” he added.