- Progovernment content, propaganda, and misinformation permeated online in the lead-up to the 2018 parliamentary election (see Media, Diversity, and Content Manipulation).
- The opposition news outlet Magyar Nemzet and independent digital outlet Budapest Beacon both closed in April 2018, further restricting the diversity of the online media environment (see Media, Diversity, and Content Manipulation).
- Public officials continue to use defamation and libel charges against citizens commenting on social networks (see Prosecutions and Detentions for Online Activities).
The internet remained free this year in Hungary despite the continual erosion of the online media environment and progovernment propaganda proliferating online ahead of the 2018 election.
In the country’s parliamentary election on April 8, Hungary re-elected Prime Minister Victor Orban to his fourth consecutive term.1 The ruling Fidesz party also further consolidated its control of the government, securing two-thirds of parliamentary seats. Tens of thousands of citizens responded to the election results with demonstrations against Orban’s agenda. In the lead-up to the vote, progovernment content and propaganda flooded the online media landscape, including content that was intentionally distorted to bolster views against migrants, the European Union, and liberalism.
The government does not engage in any politically-motivated blocking or filtering of online content. However, the diversity of the online media 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. Both Magyar Nemzet, a leading opposition daily that reported on pre-election corruption, and the English-language paper Budapest Beacon closed following the April election. Leading independent online outlets have also been sold in recent years, often to government-friendly or affiliated owners, which proved to be the case with two online outlets in August and September 2018.
Internet access is widespread in Hungary. 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
Hungary’s internet penetration rate has been steadily increasing over the past 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 EU 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
There are three mobile phone service providers, all privately owned by foreign companies.12 Mobile internet network expansion has been relatively stagnant because of the lack of competition. A fourth provider, Romanian-owned Digi acquired frequencies to offer services in 2014, and was expected to launch in June 2018.13
A tax on mobile phone calls and text messages was introduced in mid-2012 (a maximum of US $3 a month per subscriber).14 All mobile service providers have since raised their prices.15 Previously, in 2010 the government had levied two special taxes on the telecommunication industry, both of which triggered infringement proceedings in the EU in 2012. The government withdrew the tax and both proceedings were withdrawn.16
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.17 The members of the Media Council are nominated and elected by parliamentary majority, then appointed by the president of the republic.18 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.19
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,20 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.”21
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,22 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.23
- 1TNS-Hoffmann Kft. Media Sector TGI 2014/1–4 quarters.
- 2Anna 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.
- 3Tamás 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.
- 4European Schoolnet and University of Liege, “Survey of schools: ICT in education, Country profile: Hungary,” November 2012, http://bit.ly/1IVN56J.
- 5Digital Transformation of Small and Medium Enterpises in Hungary, DELab UWCountry Report, February, 2016, http://bit.ly/2dEPDC9.
- 6Zoltán Kalmár, Council of Hungarian Internet Service Providers, e-mail communication, January 24, 2012.
- 7rentITKft., “Magyarország internetes infrastruktúrája” [Hungary's internet infrastructure] January 29, 2010, http://bit.ly/1N38PRq.
- 8Budapest Internet Exchange (BIX), “BIX Charter,” April 21, 2009, http://bix.hu/?lang=en&page=charter.
- 9Zoltán Kalmár, Council of Hungarian Internet Service Providers, email communication, January 24, 2012.
- 10Act CXIII of 2011 on home defense, Military of Hungary, and the implementable measures under special legal order, Art. 68, par. 5.
- 11These major internet service providers are: Telekom with a 35.1 percent market share, UPC 22.1 percent, DIGI 16.3 percent, and Invitel 8.8 percent. See National Media and Infocommunications Authority Hungary, Flash report on landline service, December, 2017, http://bit.ly/2C8j22C.
- 12The 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.
- 14Andras Gergely, “Hungary Phone Tax Burden May Affect Magyar Telekom Dividend,” Bloomberg Business, May 10, 2012, http://bloom.bg/1G2ceQG.
- 15“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.
- 16European 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.
- 17Act CLXXXV of 2010, art. 136. par. 11.
- 18Act CLXXXV of 2010, art. 124.
- 19Act CLXXXV of 2010, art. 111/A.
- 20Article 19, Hungarian media laws Q&A, August 2011, http://bit.ly/1LlBPVq.
- 21OSCE, “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.
- 22Act CXII of 2011 on data protection and freedom of information, Section 40, par. 1, 3; Section 45, par. 4–5.
- 23Case 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 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 early-2018.5 According to Tett és Védelem Alapítvány, a Jewish foundation working against anti-Semitic hate crimes, the NMHH informed them about technical difficulties emerging in connection with blocking certain content on Kuruc.info that left court decisions unenforced.6
Online gambling is considered illegal if the tax authority has not authorized the operation of the website.7 ISPs had blocked about two hundred gambling websites as of March 2018;8 however, gambling websites have been known to change their URLs in order to circumvent blocking.9
The penal code, in effect since 2013, includes provisions based on which websites can now be blocked for hosting unlawful content.10 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.11 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.12 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.
Though the law in Hungary generally protects against intermediary liability for content posted by third parties, in some cases courts have held individuals responsible for third-party comments on their 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.13 The comments said a journalist “should be hanged.”
In June 2015, the 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. 14 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 (ECtHR) in 2018.15
In an earlier case decided in February 2016, 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.16
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.17 Intermediaries are also not obliged to verify the content they transmit, store, or make available, nor do they need to search for unlawful activity.18 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.19
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.”20 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 and is registered as a media content provider by the NMHH.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. Misinformation and progovernment messages continued to spread online during the past year, particularly in the lead-up to April’s parliamentary election, and opposition outlets Magyar Nemzet and Budapest Beacon closed down. In an alarming development after the reporting period, the company with indirect control over Index.hu, the country’s leading independent website, was sold, raising fears about the outlet’s independence.
In the run-up to the April 8 parliamentary election, progovernment content and propaganda permeated the online sphere. On April 7, the day before the vote, all 18 papers owned by Mészáros and their websites published the same Prime Minister Orban interview titled “Both votes to Fidesz.”27 In another example, the progovernment news site origo.hu ran a Facebook advertisement with a video of two dark skinned men attacking a white skinned women in a church, with the tagline “Western Europe, 2017. Do you want this?” Hvg.hu later reported that the video was actually that of a 2015 robbing in a Nebraska city, and the sound of the video was tampered with to contain shouts praising Allah.28
In addition to online efforts to influence voters, internet users had trouble accessing the official election site. Valasztas.hu was redesigned shortly before the elections, and the site failed to deal with the massive traffic before and during election day. The National Election Office opted for a replacement site with significantly reduced content for more than a week, making it nearly impossible for citizens to get updated information on results and legal remedies concerning the elections.
After the 2018 elections, both print and online edition of 80-year-old Magyar Nemzet, one of the leading political daily in pre-election corruption coverage, was closed down. Owner Lajos Simicska, long-time ally later turned enemy of Prime Minister Orban, blamed financial reasons for the closure.29 The timing suggests a strong political motivation behind the decision. Additionally in the same week, after four years of operation, English language online paper Budapest Beacon was closed. Richard Field, managing editor of Budapest Beacon, said in an interview that “the severe erosion of media plurality in Hungary makes it nearly impossible for us to continue publishing a fact-based newspaper of record.”30
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 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.31 Consequently Mészáros owns 13 of the 18 county papers and their online editions through Mediaworks, while the remaining major regional publications belong to two other prominent businessmen close to the government.32
In a 2017 survey, journalists told the Mérték Media Monitor that they experienced persistent political and economic pressure, and that self-censorship is a common occurrence. On a 100-point scale, journalists rated the degree of political pressure they experience at 89 points, while they rated business pressure at 74 points.33
In January 2018, 444.hu reported on a sophisticated network of unpaid progovernment users that share Fidesz-supported content on Facebook.34 Commentators are given directives, sometimes multiple a day, to post particular content within a specified timeline. Those providing the order then confirm that the content was posted. Some content posted includes memes, and commentators are provided detailed instructions on how to create the images.
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.35 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.36
On the other hand, the government has channelled increased advertising revenue to benefit outlets that publish progovernment content. 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 in the lead-up to the October 2016 migrant quota referendum.37 The same pattern was again seen in 2017, when the government initiated a “national consultation” to get feedback from Hungarians on the so-called Soros plan, the alleged secret conspiracy of billionaire George Soros and the European Union to remove borders and inundate countries with migrants.38 The political nature of government advertising, giving partisan outlets a financial advantage, has further distorted the online media landscape.
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.39 In May 2015, the tax was converted from a progressive tax into a flat tax,40 as the European Commission started investigating whether the tax harms competition.41
Online outlets have started to utilize crowdfunding, either explicitly by building their operations on reader donations, like investigative sites Átlátszó.hu and Dirket36, or by using them as a supplement to their market revenues, like 444.hu.
Despite reports of self-censorship and financial challenges, some online media outlets have become a means to scrutinize public officials, although journalists have faced consequences in the past for publishing content critical of the government online.42 One prominent example of investigative journalism examined EU-funded infrastructure projects and a company owned by Prime Minister Orban’s son-in-law. While OLAF, the EU’s anti-fraud agency, reported in February 2018 that it found “serious irregularities” in a project, investigative online outlets started reporting on the issue years earlier.43 OLAF, which has no power to initiate criminal procedures, suggested that Hungary reimburse the EU for development funds in the affected project, a sum of HUF 13 billion (~US $50 million).
Observers have noted that independent online outlets have been sold and acquired by government-affiliated or friendly entities, which is often followed by a shift toward a more government-supported editorial slant.44 In September 2018, the media group cemp-X Online Zrt, which indirectly oversees the country’s predominant independent news outlet Index.hu, among other publications, was sold by businessman Zoltan Speder.45 The outlet’s editorial staff has stated that they will quit if they experience editorial pressure from the new owners, and a website has been set up to monitor the independence of Index.hu.46 Only a month prior to this in August 2018, businessman and Orban-supporter Zsolt Nyerges bought a media outlet that includes Hir TV and a news website, which were previously owned by Lajos Simcska.47 After being purchased by Nyerges, the outlet reversed its editorial position critical of the government and fired journalists.
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.48 Sáling subsequently founded a nonprofit investigative journalism site called Direkt36 that publishes articles based on extensive investigations concerning corruption.49 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.50
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. An anonymous journalist of MTI told Mérték that by 2016, MTI introduced daily routines to support the government’s agenda, such as mandating that employees “write a summary of migrant-related scandals every day.”51 In 2018, the Guardian also reported that there is evidence that the government provides direct orders about content to MTVA editors.52
The online media landscape is otherwise relatively diverse, independent online media outlets have given a voice to minorities, including Hungary’s Roma community,53 the LGBTI community, and religious groups.
Far right blogs and portals are known to circulate pro-Russian propaganda.54 Some of them spam Facebook with obvious fake news.55 According to a 2017 study by think tank Political Capital, pro-Russian news and content is disseminated “directly from [Hungarian] government-organized media.”56
In late 2016 the National Media and Infocommunications Authority (NMHH) started enforcing EU net neutrality regulations. Two mobile internet providers, Telekom57 and Telenor,58 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 but the decision were upheld in the Telenor case in September 2017.
Social media platforms have grown increasingly popular as a tool for advocacy. After the parliamentary elections in April 2018, several protests were organized via social media platforms, in one case rallying about 100,000 people in Budapest.59
Before the April elections it became obvious for many that under the current electoral system the only way to prevent another landslide victory of the governing parties was for opposition parties to build an electoral alliance. The main idea behind this concept was to present only one opposition candidate in every electoral district, thus concentrating anti-government votes. When opposition parties appeared reluctant to follow such a strategy, activists and experts took initiative and built online databases presenting the most likely winning candidate in each district, allowing citizens to concentrate their votes themselves.60
Online petitions are also popular in Hungary. For example, over 8,000 people signed the online petition “We are on the Soros-list, too!”61 after progovernment political weekly Figyelő published the names of nearly 200 alleged ‘Soros mercenaries’ in April 2018.62
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.63 The university remains open pending negotiations between Hungary and the United States.64
- 1“Hungarian court blocks Holocaus denial websites,” Times of Israel, September 1, 2016, http://www.timesofisrael.com/hungarian-court-blocks-holocaust-denial-we….
- 2For 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.
- 4Gábor 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“A Tett és Védelem próbálja a Kuruc.info egyik rovatát elérhetetlenné tenni”, [Tett és Védelem tries to block a subsite of Kuruc.info], index.hu, November 2, 2017, http://bit.ly/2EGzNUe
- 7Act XXXIV of 1991 on Gambling, art. 36/g.
- 8The list of the National Tax and Customs Administration can be accessed at: http://bit.ly/2EDKEKx.
- 9Ajándok Gyenis, "A NAV blokkol, de hiába," [The tax authority is blocking in vain] Hvg.hu, July 29, 2014, http://bit.ly/1BbkSdu.
- 10Act C of 2012, art. 77.
- 11Act XXXVIII of 1996 on International Assistance in Criminal Matters, art. 60/H.
- 12Act C of 2003 on electronic communication, art. 10, par. 28., art. 159/B.
- 13“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.
- 14Pfv.IV.20.011/2015/3, June 10, 2015.
- 15Magyar 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.
- 16Magyar Tartalmoszolgáltatók Egyesülete and Index.hu Zrt. v. Hungary, (application no. 22947/13).
- 17Act CVIII of 2001 on Electronic Commerce, art. 8, par. 1.
- 18Act CVIII of 2001, art. 7. par. 3.
- 19Act CVIII of 2001, art. 12/A, Act XIX of 1998 on criminal proceedings, art. 158/B-158/D.
- 20Act CIV of 2010, art. 1, par. 6.
- 21“Tanácsnokok és bloggerek,” [Members and bloggers] Mediatanacs-blog, January 11, 2011, http://bit.ly/1P33k8F.
- 22Act CIV of 2010, art. 17.
- 23Act CIV of 2010, art. 16, and art. 4, par. 3.
- 24Act CLXXXV of 2010, art. 186, par. 1, 187, par. 3. bf.
- 25Act CLXXXV of 2010, art. 187, par. 3. e, 189, par. 4.
- 26Zsófia 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.
- 27Sándor Czinkóczi, „All of the county papers published the same centralized Orban interview a day before the elections” [Az összes megyei lap ugyanazzal a központi Orbán-interjúval jelent meg a választás előtti napon], 444.hu, April 7, 2018, https://bit.ly/2I19WqU
- 28“Így hazudik az Origo: a 2017-es európai migránstámadás egy 2015-ös amerikai rablás”, [This is how Origo lies: the 2017 European migrant attack is a 2015 American robbery], hvg.hu, March 14, 2018, https://bit.ly/2IrFhzD
- 29„Hungarian opposition daily Magyar Nemzet to shut down”, Business Insider, April 10, 2018, https://read.bi/2I09RBA
- 30Ádám Lestyánszky, „The Budapest Beacon exit interview”. Budapest Beacon, April 13, 2018, https://bit.ly/2JIMA7Q
- 31„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.
- 32Justin Spike, „Fidesz-tied oligarchs now control all 18 regional newspapers,” The Budapest Beacon, August 5, 2017, http://bit.ly/2CF4VxM
- 33Attila Mong, et al, „When Propaganda Rules Public Discourse – Soft Censorship in Hungary 2016,” Mérték Média Monitor, p. 55, http://bit.ly/2Cf0EVQ
- 35Ágnes Urbán, Attila Bátorfy, “State advertising in Hungary 2006-2017,” [Állami hirdetések Magyarországon, 2006-2017], Mérték Media Monitor, February 23, 2018, http://bit.ly/2ossB3l
- 36Attila 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.
- 38Max Bearak, „Hungary accused of ’hatemongering’ in national survey targeting George Soros,” The Washington Post, November 8, 2017, http://wapo.st/2GEjUdR
- 39Act XXII of 2014 on the advertisement tax.
- 40Pricewaterhouse Cooper, "Changing advertising tax rates," May 27, 2015, http://pwc.to/1MEwHKp.
- 41European Commission, "State aid: Commission opens in-depth investigation into Hungarian advertisement tax," March 12, 2015, http://bit.ly/1b5b88P.
- 42Péter Erdélyi, Péter Magyari, Gergő Plankó,"Deutsche Telekom, Hungarian government collude to silence independent media," 444, June 5, 2014, http://bit.ly/1hClHm6.
- 43Anita Vorák, „Six things Direkt36 revealed the company of Orbán’s son-in-law, and later were also found suspicious by the EU’S Anti-fraud Office,” Direkt36, February 14, 2018, http://bit.ly/2okPt5k
- 44Mérték 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
- 48Péter Erdélyi, Péter Magyari, Gergő Plankó,"Deutsche Telekom, Hungarian government collude to silence independent media," 444, June 5, 2014, http://bit.ly/1hClHm6.
- 49Anita 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.
- 50Gergő 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
- 51Attila Mong, et al, „When Propaganda Rules Public Discourse – Soft Censorship in Hungary 2016,” Mérték Média Monitor, p. 55, http://bit.ly/2Cf0EVQ
- 52Daniel Nolan, Shaun Walker, „Hungarian journalists admit role in forging anti-migrant atmosphere of fear’”, The Guardian, April 13, 2018, https://bit.ly/2qvx7yT
- 53Borbala Toth, “Minorities in the Hungarian media. Campaigns, projects and programmes for integration” (Center for Independent Journalism: Budapest, 2011): 19.
- 54László 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
- 55András 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.
- 56Lóránt Győri et al, “Does Russia interfere in Czech, Austrian and Hungarian elections?”, 2017, p 12, https://bit.ly/2zhV6oZ
- 57“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.
- 58“Another decision for non-discriminatory internet”, [Újabb döntés a megkülönböztetéstől mentes internetezésért], National Media and Infocommunications Authority, January 27, 2017, http://bit.ly/2nMK73V.
- 59“Hungary: Tens of thousands march in Budapest anti-Orban demo”, BBC News, April 14, 2018, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-43771392
- 60Marton Dunai, „Orban re-election campaign may be undercut by tactical voting”, Reuters, April 4, 2018, https://reut.rs/2r1tuB4
- 62Pablo Gorondi, “Hungary: Pro-govt weekly prints list of ‘Soros mercenaries’”, Associated Press, April 12, 2018, https://www.bostonglobe.com/business/2018/04/12/hungary-pro-govt-weekly…
- 63Palko Karasz, „Hungary’s Parliament Passes Law Targeting George Soros’s University”, The New York Times, April 4, 2017, http://nyti.ms/2o8EH36
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 2016 antiterrorism legislation grants 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
A new civil code, which took effect in March 2014, also protects citizens from defamation and insults to their honor,10 and includes damages caused by violating civil rights.11 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.12
In June 2017, Hungary’s parliament passed a law requiring non-government organizations receiving more than HUF 7.2 million (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.13 Local groups have expressed concerns that the law will have the effect of stigmatizing independent groups as well as interfering with their work.14 In July 2017, the European Commission launched an infringement procedure against the law.15
Prosecutions and Detentions for Online Activities
There were no reported detentions for online activities during this report’s coverage period. 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 likely causes a chilling effect on critical discussions and mobilization on social media.16
A handful of civil procedures were reported during the past year:
- In January 2018, the Szeged Regional Court of Appeal found an internet user in violation of the personality rights of the Mayor of Tiszafüred, because the user called the politician a “piece of shit” and “scum” on Facebook.17 The court ordered the user to pay a fee of HUF 300,000 (~US$1,200).
- The local Bicske government sued a blogger and former journalist for two 2017 blog posts that criticized local government regulations, projects, and representatives.18 The government requested that the blogger pay about US$3,500 in damages. The blogger later won the case.19
In an earlier case 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.20 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.21
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 January 2016, the European Court of Human Rights found that the Hungarian law on surveillance is in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.31 However, to date no amendment to the law has been made to comply with the European standards. The case began in June 2012, when 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,32 saying that surveillance should be approved by a judge rather than a minister to ensure judicial oversight.33 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.34
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, the NGO 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, which was later closed lacking evidence.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 May 2017 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 While the police found no evidence of illegal activity, they failed to share a video that served as the journalist’s evidence of the assault. In October 2017, the party official initiated a criminal defamation procedure against the journalist for allegedly attacking her.46
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.47 In 2017, the group targeted online outlets considered progovernment, including Pestisracok, Origo, and government think tank Századvég.48 These attacks remain fairly sporadic.
- 1The Fundamental Law of Hungary (25 April 2011) art. VIII., 1–2.
- 2Venice Commission, “Opinion on the Fourth Amendment to the Fundamental Law of Hungary,” 17 June, 2013, http://bit.ly/1U8x0CD.
- 3Katalin 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
- 4Act C of 2012, art. 226, 227, 332–335.
- 5Péter 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.
- 6Act C of 2012, art. 227.
- 7Act C of 2012, art. 226/A and 226/B.
- 8Hungarian 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.
- 9Threat of prosecution for defamation has chilling effect says HCLU, The Budapest Beacon, November 3, 2015, http://bit.ly/1niXX9D.
- 10Act V of 2013 on the Civil Code, art. 2:45.
- 11Act V of 2013 on the Civil Code, art. 2:52–53.
- 12Bill Nr. T/7971, art. 2:44.
- 13“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….
- 14The Hungarian Helsinki Committee, “Bill seeks to stifle independent groups,” June 12, 2017, http://www.helsinki.hu/en/hungary-bill-seeks-to-stifle-independent-grou….
- 15Lili Bayer, „Brussels launches infringement proceedings against Hungary,” Politico.eu, July 13, 2017, http://politi.co/2olCPTH
- 16“Criticism of Public Officials Is a Right and a Duty!” Liberties.eu, 10 November, 2015, http://bit.ly/1L6n5vN.
- 17Information from the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union
- 20László 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.
- 21Imre 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.
- 22Hungarian 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….
- 23Act C of 2003, art. 159/A; “Hungary – Privacy Profile,” Privacy International, January 22, 2011.
- 24Act C of 2003, art. 159/A, par. 7.
- 25Act 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.
- 26Act C of 2003, art. 92, par. 2.
- 27Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, “Data retention – yet again”, [Adatmegőrzés – sokadszor], July 2011, 2016, http://bit.ly/2nw3hux.
- 28Act CXXV of 1995 on the National Security Services, Art. 54, http://bit.ly/1bhE9cm.
- 29Act CXXV of 1995, art. 56.
- 30“Hungary – Privacy Profile,” Privacy International, January 22, 2011.
- 31Szabó and Vissy v. Hungary, Application no, 37138/14., 14 January 2016.
- 32Act 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.
- 33The complaint can be downloaded at: http://ekint.org/ekint_files/File/constitutionalcomplaint_tek.pdf.
- 34Eötvös Károly Policy Institute, “Szabo and Vissy v. Hungary: No secret surveillance without judicial warrant,” http://bit.ly/1Bh3uhu;
- 35József 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.
- 36Viktória Serdült, ”Prosecutor orders investigation into surveillance bug found in NGO office,” The Budapest Beacon, July 14, 2016, http://bit.ly/2cOhJoE.
- 37Máté 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
- 38Alex Hern, “Hacking Team hack casts spotlight on murky world of state surveillance”, The Guardian, July 11, 2015, http://bit.ly/2efzrIq.
- 39Privacy International “Surveillance Industry Index,” November 18, 2013, https://www.privacyinternational.org/node/403.
- 40“Surveillance Who's who,” Privacy International.
- 41Tamás 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.
- 42Morgan Marquis-Boireet. al. “For their eyes only: The Commercialization of Digital Spying,” Citizen Lab, September 16, 2013, http://bit.ly/1pCA0Y4.
- 43Act XIX of 1998 on criminal proceedings, art. 178/A, par. 1.
- 44Act 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
- 46Attila Kálmán, „It’s the videojournalist of 444 who has to go to court, not the Fidesz member,” [A 444 videósa áll bíróság elé, nem a Fidesz-tag], 24.hu, 24 October, 2017, http://bit.ly/2ELK6q7
- 47“Nemzetközi háború a kormány ellen?” [International war on the government?], 24.hu, December 26, 2015, http://bit.ly/2pKJNnZ
- 48“Akcióba lendült a magyar Anonymous” [Hungarian Anonymous in action], 24.hu, May 2, 2017, http://bit.ly/2rqsc25
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Global Freedom Score66 100 partly free
Internet Freedom Score69 100 partly free