According to the annual Freedom of the Press Report published by the US-based non-governmental organization Freedom House, Hungary has been on a downward spiral into a censored society. This restrictive trend is apparent all the way back to 2010, which coincides with the emergence of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and the Fidesz party.
According to the 2010 report, Hungary’s was “free” with a score of 23. On the reports scoring scale ten is the most “free” while 99 is the least “free”. One year later in 2011, Hungary was still classified as “free” but its rating had dropped to 30, the frontier between “free” and “partly free”. The report cited a series of press-related laws which were passed. Most notably this refers to the formation of the National Media and Infocommunications Authority (NMHH). Former President Pál Schmitt, who has already stepped down from his position due to allegations concerning the authenticity of his doctoral thesis, approved the legislation which granted PM Orbán the power to appoint the president of NMHH to a nine-year term, without limits on re-election. The NMHH president also serves as the chairperson of the autonomous five-member Media Council, which levies fines based upon partial coverage to radio and television stations. All five members were associated with the Fidesz party.
In 2012, Hungary crossed the threshold into the “partly free” territory with a report score of 36. This occurred due to the
“general decline of the Hungarian media environment due to the establishment of the new National Agency for Data Protection; evidence of a politically motivated licensing procedure resulting in the loss of antigovernment station Klubrádió’s frequencies; increased reports of censorship and self-censorship, especially in the public service channels; and worsening economic conditions for independent media entrepreneurship.”
The 2013 report was recently released, and according to the overview report Hungary’s status has remained the same. The specific report on Hungary has not however been published.
Freedom House is not the only organization to publish similar reports. Reports Without Borders placed Hungary at 23rd in the world in their 2010 Press Freedom Index. Just one year later, Hungary dropped to 40th. This year’s Index has Hungary at 56 out of 179 countries.
It seems in Hungary though that censorship is not only taking place in the media. According to multiple news sources, the Hungarian Constitutional Court has announced that it will not publicly disclose for ten years the contents of the one particular hearing. The hearing occurred on April 23rd when President of the National Judicial Office testified before the CC. Miklós Hagyó and his lawyer petitioned the CC for the hearing as they objected to the Handó’s decision in transferring the trial of 15 associates of the Budapest Transit Authority (BKV) from the Budapest Metropolitan Court to the Kecskemét Tribunal. A blogger translated a Népszava article about the CC’s order restrict public access to the original voice record.
In a somewhat related event, the Venice Commission, the Council of Europe’s advisory body on constitutional issues, recently leaked a report about the controversial fourth amendment to the Hungarian constitution. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, a Venice Commission spokeswoman confirmed that the “draft assessment…was published due to human error and taken off the site after a few hours.” The spokeswoman went on to explain that the draft does not yet reflect the official opinion of the commission as it has not yet been discussed and amended, which presumably will take place on June 14-15 during the commission’s plenary session in Venice.
The WSJ article went on to say that the fourth amendment “[contradicts] Hungary’s basic law and international standards.” One blogger, who translated a report from Népszava, stated:
“The Commission, unlike in other cases, doesn’t even bother to make suggestions that would perhaps remedy some of their objections. Rather, they indicate that the whole thing is unacceptable. It has to be abrogated. Thrown out.”
Among other things, the fourth amendment, ratified by the Hungarian parliament on March 12 despite protestations, would nullify about 20 years of Constitutional Court decisions. So here we are again facing a form of censorship, perhaps the most serious to date during the current Orbán administration.
So what originally started with the creation of an over-arching media council has now developed into erasing two decades of judicial experience and wisdom. Moreover, it has developed into banning public consumption of vital judicial hearing, as in the case of Miklós Hagyó, Tünde Handó, and the Constitutional Court.
While many critics of Prime Minister Orbán and his lapdogs let fly accusatory cries of “Dictator!” or even better “Viktator!” I don’t entirely agree. This is simply political power play. Prime Minister Orbán and his entourage are ensnaring and sacrificing much of the Hungarian pawns in order to better place the Fidesz bishops and knights. And they have played the board quite well. The opposition in Hungary is disorganized and weak, unable to produce any sort of defense or counter attack. What the major Fidesz players do not seem to regard highly, though, are the opinions of those who are watching the match. They are the grandmasters. They are waiting for their turn to sit at the table. Unfortunately though, while they are waiting to play the rest of Hungary is driven like cattle into the visionary direction of a few. Evidence of history repeating itself, I suppose.