- Independent online outlets faced financial pressure, as the government channelled increased advertising revenue to partisan outlets in the lead-up to the October 2016 migrant quota referendum (see “Media, Diversity, and Content Manipulation”).
- Activists mobilized online around the #IStandWithCEU hashtag after the government passed a law jeopardizing the future of the Central European University in Budapest (see “Digital Activism”)
- An antiterrorism law came into effect in July 2016 that requires providers of encrypted services to allow authorities access to client data, raising privacy concerns (see “Surveillance, Privacy, and Anonymity”).
Internet freedom declined in Hungary in the past year after independent online outlets were increasingly squeezed out of the market and a new antiterrorism law gave authorities greater powers to demand user data from private companies.
The internet remains relatively free in Hungary, and the government does not engage in any politically motivated blocking or filtering of online content. However, the diversity of the online media landscape is threatened by the inequitable and politically biased distribution of advertising revenue, resulting in the closure of some independent online outlets over the past few years. The government unleashed an aggressive online advertising campaign in the lead-up to the migrant quota referendum in October 2016, urging citizens to reject the quota, while simultaneously boosting revenues of progovernment outlets.
Social media users mobilized after the government announced a law that jeopardized the future of the Central European University in Budapest, rallying around the #IStandWithCEU hashtag and organizing protests that drew tens of thousands of people.
A new antiterrorism law that passed in July 2016 raised privacy concerns, obligating providers of encrypted services, including messaging platforms, to allow authorities to access clients’ data. Meanwhile, the lack of judicial oversight over surveillance practices remains problematic, and Hungarian lawmakers have failed to implement a ruling of the European Court of Human rights that said surveillance must be conducted with necessary judicial oversight.
Internet access is widespread in Hungary, with internet penetration rising significantly in the past year. Internet prices remain relatively high compared to Hungary’s European neighbors, and a rural-urban divide in access persists. The internet and mobile markets remain concentrated among a handful of providers.
Availability and Ease of Access
The internet penetration rate has been steadily increasing in Hungary over the past several years. Levels of access differ based on geographical and socioeconomic conditions, with lower access rates found among low-income families and in rural areas. Internet penetration also differs between those living in the capital and in the countryside.1 A digital divide based on ethnicity has also been observed, with the Roma community historically having lower levels of internet access.2
The National Curriculum for 2013 drastically decreased the number of IT classes in primary and secondary schools, despite protests from IT teachers, potentially further increasing the digital divide among social groups, as children coming from low-income families may not have access to digital devices at home.3 Poor IT infrastructure at public schools further increases the digital divide.4
The cost of internet access is comparatively high, with internet subscriptions in Hungary among the most expensive in the European Union relative to monthly income.5
Restrictions on Connectivity
The government does not restrict bandwidth, routers, or switches,6 and backbone connections are owned by telecommunications companies rather than the state.7 The Budapest Internet Exchange (BIX) is a network system that distributes Hungarian internet traffic among domestic internet service providers (ISPs), and is overseen by the Council of Hungarian Internet Service Providers (ISZT)8 without any government interference.9 Legally, however, the internet and other telecommunications services can be paused or limited in instances of unexpected attacks, for preemptive defense, or in states of emergency or national crisis.10
The ICT market in Hungary lacks significant competition, with over a third of the market belonging to Magyar Telekom. Four ISPs control over 80 percent of the total fixed broadband market.11 UPC was the first company to enable home routers to serve as Wi-Fi hotspots, at the same time as it entered the mobile phone market as a mobile virtual network operator, which resells service using networks owned by another provider.12
There are three mobile phone service providers, all privately owned by foreign companies.13 Mobile internet network expansion has been relatively stagnant because of the lack of competition. A market with few players is also more easily influenced by the government, which can negotiate individually with service providers.
The government levied two special taxes on the telecommunication industry in 2010, both of which triggered infringement proceedings in the European Union in 2012. The government withdrew the tax and both proceedings were withdrawn.14 Another tax on mobile phone calls and text messages was introduced in mid-2012 (a maximum of $3 a month per subscriber).15 All mobile service providers have since raised their prices.16
In late 2016 the National Media and Infocommunications Authority (NMHH) started enforcing EU net neutrality regulations. Two mobile internet providers, Telekom17 and Telenor,18 were found to be in violation of the regulations for giving certain video streaming services preferential treatment. The NMHH ordered the providers to cease the discriminatory practice. The providers have appealed the order.
The National Media and Infocommunications Authority of Hungary (NMHH) and the Media Council, established under media laws passed in 2010, are responsible for overseeing and regulating the mass communications industry. The Media Council is the NMHH’s decision-making body in matters related to media outlets, and its responsibilities include allocating television and radio frequencies and penalizing violators of media regulations. The Head of the Media Council appoints the president of the MTVA, the fund responsible for producing content for the public service media.19 The members of the Media Council are nominated and elected by parliamentary majority, then appointed by the president of the republic.20 The head of the NMHH is appointed by the president based on the proposal of the prime minister, for a non-renewable nine-year term.21
Some of the decisions of the Media Council have been regarded as politicized. Critics contend that the Media Council operates with unclear provisions and can impose high fines,22 which might give rise to uncertainty and fear, lead to self-censorship, and have a chilling effect on journalism as a whole. Former OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatovic, warned that the 2010 media laws “only add to the existing concerns over the curbing of critical or differing views in the country.”23
With the adoption of the Fundamental Law of Hungary, which entered into force in January 2012, the governing parties prematurely ended the six-year term of the Data Protection and Freedom of Information Commissioner, replacing the former office with the National Authority for Data Protection and Freedom of Information. The head of the new authority is appointed by the president of the republic based on the proposal of the prime minister for a nine-year term and can be dismissed by the president based on the proposal of the prime minister,24 calling into question the independence of the agency. In 2014, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that Hungary failed to fulfil its obligations under EU law when it ended the Data Protection Commissioner’s term.25
- 1. TNS-Hoffmann Kft. Media Sector TGI 2014/1–4 quarters.
- 2. Anna Galácz, Ithaka Kht, eds., “A digitalis jövő térképe. A magyar társadalom és az internet. Jelentés a World Internet projekt 2007. évi magyarországi kutatásának eredményeiről,” [The map of the digital future. The Hungarian society and the internet. Report on the results of the 2007 World Internet Project's Hungarian research] (Budapest: 2007): 20.
- 3. Tamás Papós, “Esélytelen diákok és 1 Mbit-es internet a magyar iskolákban,” [A chance for students and 1Mbit internet at Hungarian schools] Hvg.hu, October 3, 2013, http://bit.ly/1RxESuy.
- 4. European Schoolnet and University of Liege, “Survey of schools: ICT in education, Country profile: Hungary,” November 2012, http://bit.ly/1IVN56J.
- 5. Digital Transformation of Small and Medium Enterpises in Hungary, DELab UWCountry Report, February, 2016, http://bit.ly/2dEPDC9.
- 6. Zoltán Kalmár, Council of Hungarian Internet Service Providers, e-mail communication, January 24, 2012.
- 7. rentITKft., “Magyarország internetes infrastruktúrája” [Hungary's internet infrastructure] January 29, 2010, http://bit.ly/1N38PRq.
- 8. Budapest Internet Exchange (BIX), “BIX Charter,” April 21, 2009, http://bix.hu/?lang=en&page=charter.
- 9. Zoltán Kalmár, Council of Hungarian Internet Service Providers, email communication, January 24, 2012.
- 10. Act CXIII of 2011 on home defense, Military of Hungary, and the implementable measures under special legal order, Art. 68, par. 5.
- 11. These major internet service providers are: Telekom with a 35.2 percent market share, UPC 22.1 percent, DIGI 15.9 percent, and Invitel 9.4 percent. See National Media and Infocommunications Authority Hungary, Flash report on landline service, January, 2017, http://bit.ly/2mYkJnb.
- 12. "UPC Hungary launches voice/data MVNO and national free Wi-Fi service," Tele Geography, November 14, 2014, http://bit.ly/1ME8fJ0.
- 13. The three mobile phone companies are: Telekom with a 46.82 percent market share, Telenor 30.48 percent, and Vodafone 22.7 percent. See National Media and Infocommunications Authority Hungary, Flash report on mobile internet, January 2014 (latest report of its kind) http://bit.ly/1VJbhnK.
- 14. European Commission vs. Hungary, Case C-462/12, November 22, 2013; and “EC drops suit over Hungary telecoms tax,” Politics, September 27, 2013, http://bit.ly/1QdD20V.
- 15. Andras Gergely, “Hungary Phone Tax Burden May Affect Magyar Telekom Dividend,” Bloomberg Business, May 10, 2012, http://bloom.bg/1G2ceQG.
- 16. “Telefonadó: A Telenor és a Magyar Telekom is emeli a díjait,” [Telephone tax: both Telenor and Magyar Telekom raises prices] Hvg.hu, September 10, 2013, http://hvg.hu/gazdasag/20130910_Vandorlasba_kezdhet_a_mobilpiac.
- 17. “The NMHH decided for the non-discriminatory internet”, [A megkülönböztetéstől mentes internetezésért hozott döntést az NMHH], National Media and Infocommunications Authority, December 1, 2016, http://bit.ly/2mzR2xF.
- 18. „Another decision for non-discriminatory internet”, [Újabb döntés a megkülönböztetéstől mentes internetezésért], National Media and Infocommunications Authority, January 27, 2017, http://bit.ly/2nMK73V.
- 19. Act CLXXXV of 2010, art. 136. par. 11.
- 20. Act CLXXXV of 2010, art. 124.
- 21. Act CLXXXV of 2010, art. 111/A.
- 22. Article 19, Hungarian media laws Q&A, August 2011, http://bit.ly/1LlBPVq.
- 23. OSCE, “Revised Hungarian media legislation continues to severely limit media pluralism, says OSCE media freedom representative,” press release, May 25, 2012, http://www.osce.org/fom/90823.
- 24. Act CXII of 2011 on data protection and freedom of information, Section 40, par. 1, 3; Section 45, par. 4–5.
- 25. Case C-288/12, Commission v Hungary, April 8, 2014.
The government of Hungary does not engage in any significant blocking of content online and does not place restrictions on access to social media, though a number of websites purportedly containing Holocaust denial content were blocked by the authorities. Online content is somewhat limited as a result of lack of revenue for independent media outlets online, the dominance of the state-run media outlet, and the biased nature of the allocation of state advertisement funds.
Blocking and Filtering
The government does not place any restrictions on access to social media or communication applications. YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, international blog-hosting services, instant messaging, and other applications are freely available.
The authorities often block content related to Holocaust denial under Hungarian laws banning public Holocaust denial. In August 2016, a Hungarian court ordered the blocking of 20 websites that contained material denying the Holocaust.1 In January 2015, the Metropolitan Court of Justice ordered the far-right website Kuruc.info2 to delete an article denying the Holocaust.3 The stipulation of the penal code is often called the “Kuruc.info law” by experts, as the law was largely drafted to target the infamous website, which is hosted abroad.4 Since the website is hosted outside of the Hungarian jurisdiction and therefore cannot be forced to shut down, the prosecutors of district V and XIII of Budapest stated that the article on Kuruc.info would be permanently blocked in May 2015, though the article was still accessible as of mid-2017.5
The penal code, in effect since 2013, includes provisions based on which websites can now be blocked for hosting unlawful content.6 The law stipulates that if the illegal content is hosted on a server located outside of the country, the Hungarian court will issue a query to the Minister of Justice to make the content inaccessible; the minister then passes the query onto the “foreign state,” and if there is no response from that state for 30 days, the court can order domestic ISPs to block the content.7 The prosecutor, ISP, and the content provider can appeal the court order within eight days of the decision. The NMHH is the authority designated to manage the list of websites to be blocked based on court orders.8 The list, referred to as KEHTA (Hungarian acronym for “central electronic database of decrees on inaccessibility”), went into effect on January 1, 2014 with the primary aim of fighting child pornography.
Online gambling is considered illegal if the tax authority has not authorized the operation of the website.9 ISPs had blocked about a hundred gambling websites as of March 2017;10 however, gambling websites have been known to change their URLs in order to circumvent blocking.11
Though the law in Hungary generally protects against intermediary liability for content posted by third parties, in some cases courts in Hungary have held individuals responsible for comments posted by third parties on their pages and websites. In early 2016, László Toroczkai, far-right politician and mayor of Ásotthalom, was held liable by a court for “disseminating” defamatory comments posted by another person on his Facebook page. The court found that, by allowing commenting on his page, Torockai had accepted responsibility for any unlawful content posted by others.12 The comments said a journalist “should be hanged.”
In June 2015, a popular news website, 444.hu, was held liable for publishing a hyperlink to a YouTube video which undermined the reputation of Jobbik, a far-right party. 13 The court found that by publishing the hyperlink, 444.hu had assumed liability for the defamatory content contained in the YouTube video. The case is expected to be decided by the European Court of Human Rights in 2017.14
In an earlier case decided in February 2016, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled that Hungarian courts had failed to properly balance the right to reputation and the right to freedom of the press by holding websites liable for comments posted on their pages.15
According to Hungarian legislation, intermediaries are not otherwise legally responsible for content if they did not initiate or select the receiver of the transmission, or select or modify the transmitted information.16 Intermediaries are also not obliged to verify the content they transmit, store, or make available, nor do they need to search for unlawful activity.17 Hosting providers are required to make data inaccessible, either temporarily or permanently, once they receive a court order stating that the hosted content is illegal.18
However, both print and online media outlets bear editorial responsibility if their aim is to distribute content to the public for “information, entertainment or training purposes.”19 The law fails to clarify what editorial responsibility entails and whether it would imply legal liability for online publications. A member of the Media Council said that the provision could apply to a blog if it generates revenue.20 According to László Bodolai, a lawyer for the news outlet Index and a media law expert, based on a 2015 court decision, bloggers cannot legally be forced to amend or correct content with which someone disagrees, though they may be subject to lawsuits and damages.21
The 2010 media laws stipulate that media content—both online and offline—may not offend, discriminate or “incite hatred against persons, nations, communities, national, ethnic, linguistic, and other minorities or any majority as well as any church or religious group.”22 Further, the law states that constitutional order and human rights must be respected, and that public morals cannot be violated.23 However, the law does not define the meaning of “any majority” or “public morals.” If a media outlet does not comply with the law, the Media Council may oblige it to “discontinue its unlawful conduct,” publish a notice of the resolution on its front page, and/or pay a fine of up to HUF 25 million (approximately US$93,000).24 If a site repeatedly violates the stipulations of the media regulation, ISPs can be obliged to suspend the site’s given domain, and as a last resort, the media authority can delete the site from the administrative registry.25 Any such action can be appealed in court, although a 2011 overhaul of the judiciary called into question the independence of the court system (see “Legal Environment”).26
Media, Diversity and Content Manipulation
The online media environment in Hungary is relatively diverse, though independent outlets face increasing economic and political pressure. In October 2016, Hungary’s leading opposition newspaper and online news portal, Népszabadság (People’s Freedom), abruptly shut down. Though the owner said it was a business decision, journalists and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) regard the move as a consequence of political pressure. Before the outlet shut down, Népszabadság had published several highly critical articles exposing government corruption and misuse of state funds by ministers. The company that later acquired Népszabadság has been linked to Lőrinc Mészáros, an oligarch and Mayor of Felcsút.27
In a 2015 survey, journalists told the Mérték Media Monitor that they experience persistent political and economic pressure to self-censor.28 Hungarian journalists were cynical about the state of freedom of expression according to another recent survey, with 50 percent of respondents reporting they had experienced political pressure in their work.29 Nine out of ten respondents said they felt that political pressure on the media is very strong.
Online media outlets that publish critical content are far less likely to attract revenue from state advertising or private companies owned by government-friendly oligarchs. As the Hungarian online advertisement market is not yet fully developed, this loss in revenue poses a significant threat to the operations of critical online outlets. Online media is pressured to stick with politically “safe” content and many outlets veer away from covering controversial topics such as corruption. 30
In the lead-up to a national referendum in October 2016 on the topic of the European Union’s mandatory migrant quotas, the government invested heavily in an advertisement campaign urging citizens to vote against accepting a quota of migrants into the country. In what has been referred to as the largest advertising campaign in Hungary’s history, the government inundated online media with alarmist messages about supposed threats posed by migrants. The online advertising revenue almost exclusively benefited outlets that publish progovernment content, often owned by businessmen close to the government, including 888 and Ripost.31 The political nature of government advertising, giving outlets such as these a financial advantage, further distorted the online media landscape.
Businesses are also reluctant to advertise on online news outlets critical of the government. Stop.hu, a website close to the opposition Socialist party which posts content critical of the government, was forced to reduce staff partly because businesses would not consider advertising on their site.32
The introduction of the advertisement tax, which media outlets pay based on their advertising revenues, is also a burden for some media outlets, particularly smaller online ventures.33 In May 2015, the tax was converted from a progressive tax into a flat tax,34 as the European Commission started investigating whether the tax harms competition.35
Despite reports of self-censorship and challenges of maintaining financial viability, some online media outlets have become a tool to scrutinize public officials. For instance, starting in January 2012, Hvg published a series of articles on how the then-president of the republic plagiarized his doctoral dissertation. Although he denied any wrongdoing, Pál Schmitt resigned in April 2012.36 However, journalists have faced consequences in the past for publishing content critical of the government online. In June 2014, Gergő Sáling, the editor-in-chief of the online media outlet Origo, was dismissed following the publication of a series of articles critical of the government, including an article that revealed a possible abuse of public funds by the undersecretary of the prime minister, prompting speculation that the government pressured the publication to fire the editor.37 Sáling subsequently founded a nonprofit investigative journalism site called Direkt36 that publishes articles based on extensive investigations concerning corruption.38
Observers have noted that government-affiliated entities have been acquiring independent online outlets, which often follows a shift towards a more government-friendly editorial slant.39 In 2017, Origo was acquired by Ádám Matolcsy, who has close family ties to the government. The outlet’s original staff either chose to leave or were dismissed, and former employees have stated that Origo has since transformed into an outlet for government propaganda.40
Since 2011, the state-owned Hungarian News Agency (MTI) has had a virtual monopoly in the news market. MTI offers its news free of charge, making it difficult for other actors to compete. Many online media outlets that have been impacted by the economic crisis lack staff to produce original stories and tend to republish MTI news items.
The online media landscape is otherwise relatively diverse, and online media outlets have given a voice to minorities, including Hungary’s Roma community,41 the LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex) community, and religious groups.
Blogs are generally considered an opinion genre and do not typically express independent or balanced news. There are also blogs analyzing governmental policies, the activities of public figures, and corruption. The comments sections of online articles are moderated, typically to prevent negative discussions. Far right blogs and portals are known to circulate pro-Russian propaganda.42 Some of them spam Facebook with obvious fake news.43
Social media platforms have grown increasingly popular as a tool for advocacy. After the government called a referendum in October 2016 on the topic of the European Union’s mandatory migrant quotas, activists and NGOs campaigned heavily online. NGOs condemned the referendum and accompanying government campaign, which they say contained xenophobic rhetoric and disinformation.44 Activists campaigned online to encourage voters to symbolically spoil their ballots or avoid the referendum altogether. The referendum was ultimately declared invalid after 43 percent of voters participated, below the minimum threshold of 50 percent, while 6 percent of votes were spoiled.45
Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets in Budapest in April 2017 to demonstrate against amendments to Hungary’s higher education law that threatened the continued operation of the Central European University (CEU) in Budapest. CEU is an international institution accredited in both the United States and Hungary, and was founded by billionaire philanthropist George Soros. The legal amendments gained prominence following a popular #IstandwithCEU hashtag campaign across Facebook and Twitter, and the large street protests were mainly organized on social media.46 The university remains open pending negotiations between Hungary and the United States.47
Throughout the European immigration crisis, Hungarians increasingly used the internet to mobilize against the government’s strict immigration policies and anti-refugee rhetoric. In June 2015, the Hungarian Two-Tailed Dog party launched an online crowdfunding campaign to counter the government’s anti-immigration billboards displayed around the country.48 The campaign gained popular support, raising over $100,000. In July 2015, the campaigners put up spoof billboards containing messages such as, “Sorry about our Prime Minister!”49
In May 2015, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee NGO launched a campaign in response to xenophobic language in surveys relating to migration which the government distributed to millions of residents. The group started a Tumblr blog to highlight the bias behind the survey and provide a platform for Hungarian citizens to share their own migration stories.50
- 1. “Hungarian court blocks Holocaus denial websites,” Times of Israel, September 1, 2016, http://www.timesofisrael.com/hungarian-court-blocks-holocaust-denial-we….
- 2. For more about Kuruc.info and attempts to close it down see Borbala Toth,"Online hate speech – Hungary," 2014, 6–7, http://bit.ly/1BO6iIT.
- 3. "Court orders Holocaust denying article on far-right website to be blocked," Hungary Today, January 14, 2015, http://bit.ly/153Rs1J.
- 4. Gábor Polyák, "Végképp eltörölni – Adatszűrés és blokkolás a Magyar jogban," [Erasure – Data filtering and blocking in the Hungarian jurisdiction] Hvg.hu, May 17, 2013, http://bit.ly/1BO61W8.
- 5. "Elérhetetlenné tenné a kuruc.info holokamu oldalát az ügyészség," [Prosecution would make the holo-lie page of kuruc.info inaccessible] Hvg.hu, May 27, 2015, http://bit.ly/1BVUK18.
- 6. Act C of 2012, art. 77.
- 7. Act XXXVIII of 1996 on International Assistance in Criminal Matters, art. 60/H.
- 8. Act C of 2003 on electronic communication, art. 10, par. 28., art. 159/B.
- 9. Act XXXIV of 1991 on Gambling, art. 36/g.
- 10. The list of the National Tax and Customs Administration can be accessed at: http://bit.ly/1OxJ35p.
- 11. Ajándok Gyenis, "A NAV blokkol, de hiába," [The tax authority is blocking in vain] Hvg.hu, July 29, 2014, http://bit.ly/1BbkSdu.
- 12. “Facebook-perek sora kezdődhet a súlyos joghézag miatt” [Many Facebook-related lawsuits may be initiated due to legal loophole], mno.hu, February 3, 2016, http://bit.ly/2esv9cD.
- 13. Pfv.IV.20.011/2015/3, June 10, 2015.
- 14. Magyar Jeti Zrt. v. Hungary, Application no. 11257/16. Many prominent internet stakeholders intervened in the case, such as Mozilla or Buzzfeed: http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng?i=001-164079.
- 15. Magyar Tartalmoszolgáltatók Egyesülete and Index.hu Zrt. v. Hungary, (application no. 22947/13).
- 16. Act CVIII of 2001 on Electronic Commerce, art. 8, par. 1.
- 17. Act CVIII of 2001, art. 7. par. 3.
- 18. Act CVIII of 2001, art. 12/A, Act XIX of 1998 on criminal proceedings, art. 158/B-158/D.
- 19. Act CIV of 2010, art. 1, par. 6.
- 20. “Tanácsnokok és bloggerek,” [Members and bloggers] Mediatanacs-blog, January 11, 2011, http://bit.ly/1P33k8F.
- 21. László Bodolai, personal communication, March 2, 2015.
- 22. Act CIV of 2010, art. 17.
- 23. Act CIV of 2010, art. 16, and art. 4, par. 3.
- 24. Act CLXXXV of 2010, art. 186, par. 1, 187, par. 3. bf.
- 25. Act CLXXXV of 2010, art. 187, par. 3. e, 189, par. 4.
- 26. Zsófia Gergely, “Megszólalnak a bírók: jobbelugrani a kényesügyelől”, [The judges speak up: it is better to avoid politically sensitive cases], Hvg.hu, 1 March 2016, http://bit.ly/1QR84Ah.
- 27. „Nem titkolják tovább, Mészáros Lőrinc az Opimus tulajdonosa” [It’s not a secret anyomore: Opimus is owned by Lőrinc Mészáros], hvg.hu, March 3, 2017, http://bit.ly/2oda6hn.
- 28. Attila Mong, et al, ”The Methods Are Old, the Cronies Are New, Soft Censorship in the Hungarian Media in 2015,” p. 49-53 http://bit.ly/2e7d8AW.
- 29. Attila Mong, et al, ”The Methods Are Old, the Cronies Are New, Soft Censorship in the Hungarian Media in 2015,” p. 49-53 http://bit.ly/2e7d8AW.
- 30. Attila Bátorfy, journalist of Kreativ.hu, authored an in-depth analysis of public funds moving to private hands via media advertisements between 2010–2014: "Hogyan működött Orbán és Simicska médiabirodalma?" [How did the media empire of Orbán and Simicska work?] Kreativ, February 18, 2014, accessed March 7, 2015, http://bit.ly/1EZM9yM.
- 31. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/oct/01/hungarian-referendum-slam…
- 32. “Leépítés a Stop.hu-nál,” [Redundancies at Stop.hu] Index, July 4, 2013, http://bit.ly/1VIPlDY.
- 33. Act XXII of 2014 on the advertisement tax.
- 34. Pricewaterhouse Cooper, "Changing advertising tax rates," May 27, 2015, http://pwc.to/1MEwHKp.
- 35. European Commission, "State aid: Commission opens in-depth investigation into Hungarian advertisement tax," March 12, 2015, http://bit.ly/1b5b88P.
- 36. Palko Karasz, “Hungarian President Resigns Amid Plagiarism Scandal,” New York Times, April 2, 2012, http://nyti.ms/1QdGyZ3.
- 37. Péter Erdélyi, Péter Magyari, Gergő Plankó,"Deutsche Telekom, Hungarian government collude to silence independent media," 444, June 5, 2014, http://bit.ly/1hClHm6.
- 38. Anita Vorák, “Így kaptak Tiborczék szabad utat a milliárdokhoz”, [This is how Tiborcz and his crew gained access to the billions], 444.hu, 11 March, 2015,http://bit.ly/1T67rmA.
- 39. Mérték Médiaelemző Műjhely, Publicus Research, “Médiamenedzserek a sajtószabadságról”, [Media managers on the Freedom of the Press], p. 7, http://mertek.eu/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/mediamenedzser2016.07.18.pdf
- 40. Gergő Plankó: “Húsz éven át építették, a lakájmédia konca lett” – itt a teljes levél arról, mi lett az Origóból, [It was being built for 20 years, today it’s the prey of government propaganda – here is the full letter about the faith of Origo], 444.hu, 11 March, 2017, http://bit.ly/2nW2Jzy
- 41. Borbala Toth, “Minorities in the Hungarian media. Campaigns, projects and programmes for integration” (Center for Independent Journalism: Budapest, 2011): 19.
- 42. László Tamás Papp-Babett Oroszi, “Nemzeti radikális hírportálok: Oroszország magyar hangjai”, [National Radical Newsportals: The Hungarian Voice of Russia], Atlatszo.hu, 26 August, 2014, http://bit.ly/2nLX4e9
- 43. András Dezső-Szabolcs Panyi, „We Are Not Paid Agents of Russia, We Do It out of Conviction”, Index.hu, 30 January, 2017, http://bit.ly/2nkkxCq.
- 44. Human Rights Watch, “What does Hungary’s migrant quotas referendum mean,” October 6, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/10/06/what-does-hungarys-migrant-quotas-r….
- 45. “Hungarian Referendum Ballots Spoilt To Protest Against Refugee 'Hate' Vote,” Huffington Post, October 10, 2017, http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/hungarian-referendum-ballots-spoi….
- 46. Palko Karasz, „Hungary’s Parliament Passes Law Targeting George Soros’s University”, The New York Times, April 4, 2017, http://nyti.ms/2o8EH36
- 47. https://www.politico.eu/article/agreement-close-in-central-european-uni…
- 48. Marietta Le, “Hungarian Activists raise a boatload of cash to counter a government campaign,” June 14, 2015, https://globalvoices.org/2015/06/14/hungarian-activists-raise-a-boatloa….
- 49. Paula Kennedy, “Posters mock Hungary anti-immigration drive,” July 1, 2015, http://www.bbc.co.uk/monitoring/posters-mock-hungary-antiimmigration-dr….
- 50. “Hungary lays the xenophobic on thick in national questionnaire about immigration,” Global Voices, May 29, 2015, https://globalvoices.org/2015/05/29/hungary-lays-the-xenophobia-on-thic….
The right to freedom of expression is protected in the Fundamental Law of Hungary, and the government does not generally prosecute individuals for posting controversial political or social content online. However, the law includes criminal penalties for defamation, and public officials occasionally initiate defamation proceedings against individuals posting critical content on social media. Judicial oversight of surveillance by intelligence agencies continues to be a concern, and the government recently passed a law granting authorities access to encrypted communications.
The Fundamental Law of Hungary acknowledges the right to freedom of expression and defends “freedom and diversity of the press,”1 although there are no laws that specifically protect online expression. Additionally, in 2013, the Fundamental Law was amended to specify instances in which freedom of speech could be limited. Article 9.2 states that freedom of speech may not be exercised with the aim of violating the dignity of the Hungarian nation or of any national, ethnic, racial, or religious community. The amendment has been criticized for its overbroad scope and lack of clarity.2 An amendment inserted into Hungary’s Fundamental Law gives the government power to override acts of parliament for up to 15 days in the event that a state of emergency is declared in relation to an act of terrorism.3
The criminal code bans defamation, slander, the humiliation of national symbols (the anthem, flag, and coat of arms), the dissemination of totalitarian symbols (the swastika and red pentagram), the denial of the sins of National Socialism or communism, and public scare-mongering through the media.4 Defamation cases have decreased since a 1994 Constitutional Court decision, which asserted that a public figure’s tolerance of criticism should be higher than an ordinary citizen’s.5
Hungarian law does not distinguish between traditional and online media outlets in libel or defamation cases, and the criminal code stipulates that if slander is committed “before the public at large,” it can be punished by imprisonment of up to one year.6 On November 5, 2013, the criminal code was modified to include prison sentences for defamatory video or audio content. Anyone creating such a video can be punished by up to one year in prison, while anyone publishing such a recording can be punished by up to two years. If the video is published on a platform with a wide audience or causes significant harm, the sentence can increase to up to three years in prison.7 The amendment was condemned both by domestic and international actors for threatening freedom of expression and for targeting the media.8 While libel and defamation are generally prosecuted by the victim, in cases where a public official brings the charge, the state will provide a public prosecutor. In these cases, the defendant must go through an invasive registration process: his or her photograph and fingerprints are taken before the court procedure even begins.9
In June 2017, Hungary’s parliament passed a law requiring non-government organizations (NGOs) receiving more than 7.2 million forint (US$26,000) in foreign funding to join a registry of foreign organizations. The law requires organizations on the registry to declare their foreign status on their websites and other published materials, a move declared necessary to control the so-called threat of foreign meddling posed by such organizations.10 Local groups have expressed concerns that the law will have the effect of stigmatizing independent groups as well as interfering with their work.11
A new civil code, which took effect in March 2014, also protects citizens from defamation and insults to their honor,12 and includes damages caused by violating civil rights.13 The code includes a provision that may limit the free discussion of public affairs in cases where the human dignity of a public figure is violated.14
A series of amendments to the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act has imposed restrictions on the accessibility of public data. The latest amendment came into force in October 2015, imposing higher and potentially arbitrary fees for FOI requests, allowing denials for repeated FOI requests (even where previous requests received no response), and allowing public bodies to refuse to make certain information public where that information is deemed to have been used in decision-making processes. Critics say these amendments are part of a wider trend of restricting public access to information.15
Prosecutions and Detentions for Online Activities
During the coverage period, there were no instances of detentions for online activities. However, public officials have been known to initiate civil and criminal procedures against ordinary citizens for their activity online, including commenting, authoring blog pieces, or even sharing content on social media. Authorities are effectively punishing citizens for their political engagement online, a trend which is likely to cause a chilling effect on critical discussions and mobilization on social media.16
- In June 2016, the Supreme Court of Hungary upheld the decision of a lower court which found that a Facebook user, Mária Somogyi, had violated the personality rights of Tata town council. Somogyi had shared and commented a post that claimed the council was misusing public funds. 17
- In November, 2015, the then-mayor of the Hungarian town of Siófok initiated criminal proceedings against 17 Facebook users after they shared a post about suspicious real estate deals in their town involving the mayor.18 In June 2016, the first instance court found that no crime was committed and terminated the criminal procedure. The former mayor has appealed the decision.19
- In November 2014, András Vágvölgyi said on his Facebook page he had once been detained at the same time as President János Áderduring during his compulsory military service. Index.hu shared the story but said it was probably untrue.20 Both Vágvölgyi and Index.hu were found liable for violating the personality rights of Áder and were ordered to pay a fine of 600,000 HUF (US$2,100).21 In September 2016, the Supreme Court reduced the fine to 50 000 HUF (US$180).
Surveillance, Privacy, and Anonymity
The lack of judicial oversight for surveillance of ICTs, combined with evidence revealing that the Hungarian government has purchased invasive surveillance technologies from Hacking Team and other companies, raises concerns about the degree to which the right to privacy online is fully protected.
In July 2016, new antiterrorism legislation sought to expand the authorities’ access to encrypted content online. The legislation amends the Online Trade Services and Services Connected to the Information Society Act, obligating providers of encrypted services, including messaging platforms, to grant authorized intelligence agencies access to the communications of their clients upon request, unless the communication is encrypted end-to-end, making compliance impossible. Providers of encrypted services must store their clients’ messages and metadata for up to one year.22 The legislation reveals the authorities’ intent to undermine encryption, though it is unclear how it will be enforced.
ISPs and mobile phone companies in Hungary must also retain user data for up to one year to provide to investigative authorities and security services on request, including personal data, location information, phone numbers, the duration of phone conversations, IP addresses, and user IDs.23 There is no data on the extent of these activities, even though there is a legal obligation to provide the European Commission with statistics on the data queries made by investigating authorities.24 Electronic communications service providers are also obligated to “cooperate with organizations authorized to perform intelligence information gathering and covert acquisition of data.”25 Additionally, the Electronic Communications Act states that “the service provider shall, upon the written request from the National Security Special Service, agree with the National Security Special Service about the conditions of the use of tools and methods for the covert acquisition of information and covert acquisition of data.”26
In July 2016, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union launched litigation against two of the major mobile phone providers in an attempt to force the Hungarian Constitutional Court to annul data retention requirements.27 National security services can currently gather metadata “from telecommunications systems and other data storage devices” without a warrant.28 Security agents can access and record the content of communications transmitted via ICTs, though a warrant is required.29 Privacy experts say the authorities have installed black boxes allowing them direct access to ISP networks.30 There is no data on the extent to which, or how regularly, the authorities monitor ICTs.
In June 2012, staff members of the Budapest-based watchdog Eötvös Károly Institute (EKINT) asked the Constitutional Court to annul a legal provision that allows the justice minister to oversee the work of the Counter Terrorism Center to approve the secret surveillance of individuals,31 saying that surveillance should be approved by a judge rather than a minister.32 The Constitutional Court rejected the complaint, and EKINT addressed the same complaint to the European Court of Human Rights in May 2014. The application was joined by the U.K.-based Privacy International and the U.S.-based Center for Democracy and Technology.33 In January 2016, the Court decided in the favor of the applicants and found that the Hungarian law on surveillance is in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.34 No amendment to the law was made to comply with the European standards.
Reports indicate that the government may be abusing these surveillance powers to spy on local NGOs. In September 2015, Tivadar Hüttl, an attorney at the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, was speaking by telephone with Benedek Jávor, a member of the European Parliament, when the line disconnected, after which Jávor reported hearing their conversation played back. Ministers overseeing the secret services said no illegal surveillance took place.35 In June 2016, Eötvös Károly Intézet reported finding a surveillance device on computer equipment in their office. The Government denied any link to the device. In July, the public prosecutor ordered an investigation.36
Government representatives, including Szilárd Németh, deputy leader of governing party Fidesz, have recently taken to justifying any potential surveillance of local watchdogs and NGOs by claiming those organizations are “foreign agents” whose primary goal is to undermine the government, frequently referring to the polarizing figure of George Soros. 37
Several privacy and digital rights organizations say the Hungarian authorities have purchased potentially invasive surveillance technologies over the past few years. In July 2015, files leaked from the Milan-based commercial spyware company Hacking Team revealed that the Hungarian government was a client.38 In 2013, Privacy International reported that Hungarian law enforcement agencies are connected with at least one surveillance technology company,39 and that several government agencies attended the ISS World surveillance trade shows over the years.40 The University of Toronto-based Citizen Lab also reported finding a FinFisher Command and Control server, which facilitates surveillance, in Hungary.41 Though it is not clear whether the server is operated by the government or other actors, the software is marketed to governments.42
Generally, users who wish to comment on a web article need to register with the website by providing an email address and username, or they need to use a Facebook login. The operator of a website may be asked to provide the authorities with a commenter’s IP address, email address, or other data in case of an investigation.43 Additionally, users must provide personal data upon purchase of a SIM card to sign a contract with a mobile phone company.44
Intimidation and Violence
Bloggers, ordinary ICT users, websites, or users’ property are not generally subject to extralegal intimidation or physical violence by state authorities or any other actors. However, in the coverage period a reporter of online news outlet 444 was allegedly intimidated and physically assaulted by a party official during a public forum held by the governing Fidesz party.45
In the past, technical attacks in Hungary have been primarily perpetrated by non-state actors against government websites, particularly by the international group Anonymous. In October 2015, Anonymous Operation Hungary, the group’s Hungarian branch, started a “war” on the government and the governing party, Fidesz.46 In 2017, the group targeted online outlets considered progovernment, including Pestisracok, Origo, and government think tank Századvég.47 In 2012 the group rewrote the text of the fundamental law on the website of the Constitutional Court, and several sites suffered from distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks during that time.48 These attacks remain fairly sporadic.
- 1. The Fundamental Law of Hungary (25 April 2011) art. VIII., 1–2.
- 2. Venice Commission, “Opinion on the Fourth Amendment to the Fundamental Law of Hungary,” 17 June, 2013, http://bit.ly/1U8x0CD.
- 3. Katalin Dobias, „The role of constitutional identity in the responses to the terror attacks in France and the refugee-management crisis in Hungary, in Annual Review of Constitution-Building Processes: 2015, Stockholm, 2016, http://bit.ly/2prYyLx
- 4. Act C of 2012, art. 226, 227, 332–335.
- 5. Péter Bajomi-Lázár and Krisztina Kertész, “Media Self-Regulation Practices and Decriminalization of Defamation in Hungary,” in Freedom of Speech in South East Europe: Media Independence and Self-Regulation, ed. Kashumov, Alexander (Sofia: Media Development Center, 2007): 177-183.
- 6. Act C of 2012, art. 227.
- 7. Act C of 2012, art. 226/A and 226/B.
- 8. Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, “Tightening of the Criminal Code is Unconstitutional,” November 14, 2013, http://bit.ly/1P37c9M; OSCE, “Higher prison sentences for defamation may restrict media freedom in Hungary, warns OSCE representative,” press release, November 6, 2013, http://www.osce.org/fom/107908; and Dalma Dojcsák, “New law further restricts freedom of speech and freedom of the press in Hungary,” IFEX, November 18, 2013, http://bit.ly/1N3dSRT.
- 9. Threat of prosecution for defamation has chilling effect says HCLU, The Budapest Beacon, November 3, 2015, http://bit.ly/1niXX9D.
- 10. “Soros’s native Hugnary approves crackdown on foreign funded NGOs,” Bloomberg, June 13, 2017, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-06-13/soros-s-native-hunga….
- 11. The Hungarian Helsinki Committee, “Bill seeks to stifle independent groups,” June 12, 2017, http://www.helsinki.hu/en/hungary-bill-seeks-to-stifle-independent-grou….
- 12. Act V of 2013 on the Civil Code, art. 2:45.
- 13. Act V of 2013 on the Civil Code, art. 2:52–53.
- 14. Bill Nr. T/7971, art. 2:44.
- 15. Transparency International Hungary, “Transparency international turns to higher authorities,” July 3, 2013, http://bit.ly/1Opd8tD.
- 16. “Criticism of Public Officials Is a Right and a Duty!” Liberties.eu, 10 November, 2015, http://bit.ly/1L6n5vN.
- 17. She can pay 85 thousand for a Facebook share, 3 November, Index.hu, 2015, http://bit.ly/1poPBPy
- 18. László Szily, “Sima Facebook-megosztásért hallgattak ki és rabosítottak 17 embert Diófokon” [17 people interrogated and fingerprinted for a Facebook share], 444.hu, November 27, 2015, http://bit.ly/2cYf4Mx.
- 19. Imre Fónai, “Facebook-per:a siófoki expolgármester nem hagyja annyiban” [Facebook trial: Siófok ex-Mayor will not give up], sonline.hu, June 23, 2016, http://bit.ly/2dz6t3C.
- 20. Szabolcs Panyi, “We have a jail acquaintance with János Áder,” [Mi egy börtönkapcsolat vagyunk Áder Jánossal], 1 December, 2014, Index.hu, http://bit.ly/1QVmBLf.
- 21. Szabolcs Dull, “János Áder won against Index”, [Áder János pert nyert az Index ellen], 8 December, 2015, Index.hu, http://bit.ly/24DpjJF.
- 22. Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, “Hungarian parliament about to enact new anti-terror laws,” May 3, 2016, http://tasz.hu/en/news/hungarian-parliament-about-enact-new-anti-terror….
- 23. Act C of 2003, art. 159/A; “Hungary – Privacy Profile,” Privacy International, January 22, 2011.
- 24. Act C of 2003, art. 159/A, par. 7.
- 25. Act C of 2003, art. 92, par. 1. Electronic service providers provide electronic communications service, which means a “service normally provided against remuneration, which consists wholly or mainly in the conveyance, and if applicable routing of signals on electronic communications networks, but exclude services providing or exercising editorial control over the content transmitted using electronic communications network; it does not include information society services, defined under separate legislation, which do not consist primarily in the conveyance of signals on electronic communications networks,” Act C of 2003, art. 188, par. 13.
- 26. Act C of 2003, art. 92, par. 2.
- 27. Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, “Data retention – yet again”, [Adatmegőrzés – sokadszor], July 2011, 2016, http://bit.ly/2nw3hux.
- 28. Act CXXV of 1995 on the National Security Services, Art. 54, http://bit.ly/1bhE9cm.
- 29. Act CXXV of 1995, art. 56.
- 30. “Hungary – Privacy Profile,” Privacy International, January 22, 2011.
- 31. Act CXXV of 1995, art. 58, par. 2. states that in some instances – including the tasks of the Counter Terrorism Center – the minister for justice can grant the warrant.
- 32. The complaint can be downloaded at: http://ekint.org/ekint_files/File/constitutionalcomplaint_tek.pdf.
- 33. Eötvös Károly Policy Institute, “Szabo and Vissy v. Hungary: No secret surveillance without judicial warrant,” http://bit.ly/1Bh3uhu;
- 34. Szabó and Vissy v. Hungary, Application no, 37138/14., 14 January 2016.
- 35. József Spirk, “Egy ügyvédet lehallgattak, a többiek csak a jeleit észlelték” [Attorney tapped, others suspect the same], index.hu April 21, 2016, http://bit.ly/2drjUk8.
- 36. Viktória Serdült, ”Prosecutor orders investigation into surveillance bug found in NGO office,” The Budapest Beacon, July 14, 2016, http://bit.ly/2cOhJoE.
- 37. Máté Dániel Szabó: „What is Szilárd Németh using the secret services for?”, [Mire használja Németh Szilárd a titkosszolgálatokat?], ataszjelenti.blog.hu, March 14, 2016, http://bit.ly/2nlqM98
- 38. Alex Hern, “Hacking Team hack casts spotlight on murky world of state surveillance”, The Guardian, July 11, 2015, http://bit.ly/2efzrIq.
- 39. Privacy International “Surveillance Industry Index,” November 18, 2013, https://www.privacyinternational.org/node/403.
- 40. “Surveillance Who's who,” Privacy International.
- 41. Tamás Bodoky, “Nem cask az USA szeme látmindent: kormányzati kémprogram Magyarországon,” [Not only USA can see everything: governmental surveillance software in Hungary] atlatszo.hu, September 16, 2013, http://bit.ly/1FWperq.
- 42. Morgan Marquis-Boireet. al. “For their eyes only: The Commercialization of Digital Spying,” Citizen Lab, September 16, 2013, http://bit.ly/1pCA0Y4.
- 43. Act XIX of 1998 on criminal proceedings, art. 178/A, par. 1.
- 44. Act C of 2003 on Electronic Communications, art. 129, http://bit.ly/1R2nc9u.
- 45. „Lerángatták a lépcsőn a 444 tudósítóját, és elvették a telefonját a Fidesz konzultációs kórumán” [444 reporter dragged down on stairs, her phone taken away], 444.hu, May 5, 2017, http://bit.ly/2q37djV
- 46. „Nemzetközi háború a kormány ellen?” [International war on the government?], 24.hu, December 26, 2015, http://bit.ly/2pKJNnZ
- 47. „Akcióba lendült a magyar Anonymous” [Hungarian Anonymous in action], 24.hu, May 2, 2017, http://bit.ly/2rqsc25
- 48. Máté Nyusztay, “'A rendszert támadjuk' – Magyarország is az Anonymous célkeresztjében,” ['We attack the system' – Hungary is among the targets of Anonymous] Nol, February 15, 2012, http://bit.ly/1MnHW9k.
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Global Freedom Score69 100 partly free
Internet Freedom Score70 100 free