Hungary's internet freedom situation slightly improved during the coverage period, reflecting the lack of violence faced by users and, in particular, online journalists. Hungary enjoys high levels of overall connectivity, although geographic and socioeconomic digital divides persist. Restrictions on content are rare. However, the online information landscape is severely distorted, with hegemonic progovernment media dominating the digital public square. Additionally, a problematic new law now impedes freedom of assembly by limiting the ability of users to harness the internet to organize demonstrations. Users' digital rights are protected at the national and European Union levels, but oversight of state surveillance is lacking.
After taking power in 2010 elections, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Alliance of Young Democrats–Hungarian Civic Union (Fidesz) party pushed through constitutional and legal changes that have allowed it to consolidate control over the country’s independent institutions. More recently, the Fidesz-led government has moved to institute policies that hamper the operations of opposition groups, journalists, universities, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) whose perspectives it finds unfavorable.
- In December 2018, a landmark European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruling preserved protections against intermediary liability for defamatory content, with judges finding that Hungarian news website 444.hu could not be held liable for linking to video allegedly defaming the far-right party Jobbik (see B2).
- In November 2018, the owners of progovernment media companies donated their holdings to a new nonprofit organization, creating a conglomerate that consolidates the ruling Fidesz party's control over the information landscape. Hungary's parliament specially exempted the nonprofit from antitrust scrutiny (see B5).
- A new law that came into effect in October 2018 requires organizers of demonstrations to notify the police 48 hours before publicly announcing an event, limiting the internet's potential to facilitate rapid mobilization (see B8).
- A punitive advertising tax on media companies was withdrawn during the reporting period, as were problematic judicial reform measures (see B6, C1).
- Throughout 2018, Fidesz lawmakers refused to attend meetings of the parliament's National Security Committee, preventing it from exercising its oversight powers of both online and offline surveillance (see C5).
The internet is available for most households and access is widespread in Hungary. Internet prices remain relatively high compared to Hungary’s European neighbors. The internet and mobile markets are concentrated among a handful of providers.
|Do infrastructural limitations restrict access to the internet or the speed and quality of internet connections?||6.006 6.006|
Hungary’s internet penetration rate has steadily increased in recent years. According to Eurostat, over 79 percent of Hungary’s population used the internet in 2018.1 The Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) found that 94 percent of households had access to fixed broadband coverage in 2018, with a household take-up rate of 77 percent.2 58 percent of home subscribers enjoyed speeds of at least 30 Mbps that year, exceeding the European Union (EU) average of 41 percent.3 The government’s current National Infocommunication Strategy aims for 100 percent of home subscribers to have access to connections of 30 Mbps by 2020.4
4G service reaches 96 percent of households, but mobile broadband take-up in Hungary is the lowest in the EU at 59 subscriptions per 100 people.5 Providers are currently testing 5G service.
Public Wi-Fi hotspots are widely available throughout Budapest and other major cities in Hungary. Through its so-called Digital Welfare Program, the government pledged that every settlement will have public Wi-Fi available by the end of 2018.6
- 1“Individuals- internet use,” Eurostat, last modified January 31, 2020, https://appsso.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/nui/show.do?dataset=isoc_ci_ifp_iu….
- 2Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI), 2019 Country Report Hungary, accessed February 18, 2020, https://ec.europa.eu/newsroom/dae/document.cfm?doc_id=59898.
- 3Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI), 2019 Country Report Hungary, accessed February 18, 2020, https://ec.europa.eu/newsroom/dae/document.cfm?doc_id=59898.
- 4Kormany, [National Infocommunication Strategy 2014-2020], December 22, 2014, https://www.kormany.hu/download/a/f7/30000/NIS_végleges.pdf.
- 5Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI), 2019 Country Report Hungary, accessed February 18, 2020, https://ec.europa.eu/newsroom/dae/document.cfm?doc_id=59898.
- 6“Digitális Jólét WiFi,” Digitalis Jolet, accessed February 18, 2020, https://digitalisjoletprogram.hu/hu/tartalom/digitalis-jolet-wifi.
|Is access to the internet prohibitively expensive or beyond the reach of certain segments of the population for geographical, social, or other reasons?||2.002 3.003|
The cost of internet access is high but not necessarily prohibitive, with mobile broadband subscriptions in Hungary among the most expensive in the EU relative to monthly income.1 However, prices for fixed broadband subscriptions are close to the EU average.2 The average monthly income in Hungary in 2018 was approximately $750.3 According to 2017 data from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the most affordable fixed internet connections cost around $21.70 a month.4 In 2018, 1 GB of mobile data cost $6.56 on average.5 In the Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2019 Inclusive Internet Index, Hungary ranked 17th out of 20 EU countries surveyed in terms of the affordability of connections.6
Levels of access differ based on geographical and socioeconomic conditions, with lower access rates found in rural areas and among low-income families. Internet penetration also differs between those living in the capital and in the countryside.7 A digital divide based on ethnicity has also been observed, with the Roma community historically enjoying lower levels of internet access.8
The National Curriculum for 2013, which is currently in force, drastically decreased the number of information technology (IT) classes in primary and secondary schools, despite protests from IT teachers. This reduction potentially increased the digital divide among socioeconomic groups, as children from low-income households are less likely to have access to digital devices at home.9 Poor IT infrastructure at public schools further exacerbates this digital divide.10
- 1Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI), 2019 Country Report Hungary, accessed February 18, 2020, https://ec.europa.eu/newsroom/dae/document.cfm?doc_id=59898.
- 2Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI), 2019 Country Report Hungary, accessed February 18, 2020, https://ec.europa.eu/newsroom/dae/document.cfm?doc_id=59898.
- 3Abraham Vass, “Average Income Stays Below the Hungarian Average in 18 out of 19 Counties,” Hungary Today, December 20, 2018, https://hungarytoday.hu/average-income-stays-below-the-hungarian-averag….
- 4“Homepage” ICT Statistics, accessed February 18, 2020, https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Statistics/Pages/default.aspx.
- 5“Worldwide Mobile Data Pricing,” Cable, accessed February 18, 2020,https://www.cable.co.uk/mobiles/worldwide-data-pricing/.
- 6“Affordability rank,” Inclusive Internet Index, accessed February 18, 2020, https://theinclusiveinternet.eiu.com/explore/countries/HU/?category=aff….
- 7“Eurostat regional yearbook,” European Union, 2016, https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/documents/3217494/7604195/KS-HA-16-001-EN….
- 8Anna 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
- 9Tamás 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, https://hvg.hu/tudomany/20131003_informatika_oktatas_sulinet.
- 10“Survey of schools: ICT in education, Country profile: Hungary,” European Schoolnet and University of Liege, November 2012, https://ec.europa.eu/digital-single-market/sites/digital-agenda/files/H….
|Does the government exercise technical or legal control over internet infrastructure for the purposes of restricting connectivity?||6.006 6.006|
The government does not restrict commercial information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure,1 and backbone internet connections are owned by private companies rather than by the state.2 Legally, however, the internet and other telecommunications services can be restricted or suspended in the event of an attack on Hungary, for preemptive defense, or during a national emergency.3
The Budapest Internet Exchange (BIX), which distributes Hungarian internet traffic among domestic internet service providers (ISPs), is overseen by the nonprofit Council of Hungarian Internet Service Providers (ISZT)4 without any government interference.5
- 1Zoltán Kalmár, Council of Hungarian Internet Service Providers, e-mail communication, January 24, 2012
- 2rentITKft., “Magyarország internetes infrastruktúrája” [Hungary's internet infrastructure] January 29, 2010, https://www.rentit.hu/hu-HU/Cikk/erdekessegek/magyarorszag-internetes-i….
- 3Act CXIII of 2011 on home defense, Military of Hungary, and the implementable measures under special legal order, Art. 68, par. 5.
- 4Budapest Internet Exchange (BIX), “BIX Charter,” April 21, 2009, http://bix.hu/?lang=en&page=charter
- 5Zoltán Kalmár, Council of Hungarian Internet Service Providers, email communication, January 24, 2012.
|Are there legal, regulatory, or economic obstacles that restrict the diversity of service providers?||5.005 6.006|
The ICT market in Hungary lacks significant competition, with four private companies dominating. However, there are no onerous legal, regulatory, or economic barriers to entry for potential competitors. Three ISPs—Magyar Telekom, DIGI, and UPC—control over 80 percent of the total fixed broadband market.1 There are three major mobile service providers (Magyar Telekom, Telenor, and Vodafone), all privately owned by foreign companies.2 Mobile network expansion has been relatively stagnant due to the lack of competition. However, a fourth provider, the Romanian-owned DIGI, launched in 2018.3
A tax on mobile phone calls and text messages was introduced in 2012 (at a maximum rate of $3 per month per individual subscriber).4 All mobile service providers since raised their prices.5 Previously, in 2010 the government levied two special taxes on the telecommunications industry, both of which triggered infringement proceedings in the EU in 2012. The government subsequently withdrew the taxes and both proceedings were withdrawn.6
There are no specific laws or regulations governing the provision of Wi-Fi hotspots or other public internet connections in Hungary.
- 1These major internet service providers are: Magyar Telekom with a 36.5 percent market share, DIGI Group (DIGI + Invitel) 24.3 percent, and UPC 21.7 percent. See National Media and Infocommunications Authority Hungary, Flash Report May 2019, http://nmhh.hu/dokumentum/205604/vezetekes_jelentes_2019_majus.pdf
- 2These three are: Magyar Telekom with a 44.89 percent market share, Telenor 27.25 percent, and Vodafone 26.76 percent, all as of Q4 2018. See National Media and Infocommunications Authority Hungary, Mobile Market Report, April 2019 http://nmhh.hu/dokumentum/203075/NMHH_mobilpiaci_jelentes_2015Q42018Q4…
- 3“Digi to launch Hungarian mobile services in June, after delay,” Budapest Business Journal, January 16, 2018, https://bbj.hu/business/digi-to-launch-hungarian-mobile-services-in-jun…
- 4Andras Gergely, “Hungary Phone Tax Burden May Affect Magyar Telekom Dividend,” Bloomberg Business, May 10, 2012, http://bloom.bg/1G2ceQG
- 5“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
- 6European Commission vs. Hungary, Case C-462/12, November 22, 2013; and “EC drops suit over Hungary telecoms tax,” Politics, September 27, 2013, http://www.politics.hu/20130927/ec-drops-suit-over-hungary-telecoms-tax/.
|Do national regulatory bodies that oversee service providers and digital technology fail to operate in a free, fair, and independent manner?||2.002 4.004|
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 telecommunications and mass communications industries. The head of the NMHH is appointed by the president, based on the recommendation of the prime minister, for a nonrenewable nine-year term—longer than two full terms of the parliament.1 The head of the NMHH also chairs the Media Council, Hungary’s media regulator (see B6). Critics charge that this arrangement concentrates too much power in the hands of a single political appointee.
With the adoption of the Fundamental Law of Hungary, which entered into force in 2012, the government prematurely ended the six-year term of the data protection and freedom of information commissioner, replacing him and his office with the National Authority for Data Protection and Freedom of Information. The head of the new authority is appointed by the president based on the recommendation of the prime minister for a nine-year term, and can be dismissed by the president if the prime minister recommends it,2 calling into question the independence of the agency. In 2014, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that Hungary failed to fulfill its obligations under EU law when it ended the data protection commissioner’s term.3
The government does not engage in any significant blocking of online content and does not generally restrict access to social media. The diversity of information and opinion online is limited by the preponderance of progovernment media outlets, the biased nature of the allocation of government advertising funds, and political pressures on independent media outlets.
|Does the state block or filter, or compel service providers to block or filter, internet content?||5.005 6.006|
The government does not place any restrictions on access to social media or communications applications.
Unauthorized online gambling is illegal;1 ISPs have blocked about 220 gambling websites as of March 2019, at the request of the National Tax and Customs Administration.2 However, unauthorized gambling websites frequently change their URLs in order to circumvent blocking.3
The authorities often block content under a criminal code article banning public denial of the Holocaust. In 2016, a Hungarian court ordered the blocking of 20 websites that contained material denying the Holocaust.4 In 2015, the Metropolitan Court of Justice ordered the far-right website Kuruc.info5 to delete an article denying the Holocaust.6 The stipulation of the Criminal 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.7 Since the website is hosted outside of Hungary and therefore cannot be forced to shut down, prosecutors in Budapest stated that the article on Kuruc.info would be permanently blocked in 2015, though the article was still accessible as of early 2019.8 According to Tett és Védelem Alapítvány, a Jewish foundation that fights anti-Semitism, the NMHH informed it of technical difficulties that stymied the blocking of the page on Kuruc.info and therefore left the court order unenforced.9
- 1Act XXXIV of 1991 on Gambling, art. 36/g.
- 2The list of the National Tax and Customs Administration can be accessed at: “Blocked websites,” NAV, accessed February 18, 2020, https://www.nav.gov.hu/szerencsejatek/archivum/blokkolt_honlapok.
- 3Ajándok Gyenis, "A NAV blokkol, de hiába," [The tax authority is blocking in vain] Hvg.hu, July 29, 2014, https://hvg.hu/itthon/20140729_A_NAV_blokkol_de_hiaba.
- 4“Hungarian court blocks Holocaust denial websites,” Times of Israel, September 1, 2016, http://www.timesofisrael.com/hungarian-court-blocks-holocaust-denial-we…
- 5For more about Kuruc.info and attempts to close it down see Borbala Toth,"Online hate speech – Hungary," 2014, 6–7, http://cij.hu/en/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/online_hate_speech_Hungary….
- 6"Court orders Holocaust denying article on far-right website to be blocked," Hungary Today, January 14, 2015, https://hungarytoday.hu/court-orders-holocaust-denying-article-far-righ….
- 7Gábor Polyák, "Végképp eltörölni – Adatszűrés és blokkolás a Magyar jogban," [Erasure – Data filtering and blocking in the Hungarian jurisdiction] Hvg.hu, May 17, 2013, https://mertek.eu/2013/05/17/vegkepp-eltorolni-adatszures-es-blokkolas-….
- 8"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, https://hvg.hu/itthon/20150527_Elerhetetlenne_tenne_a_kurucinfo_holokamu.
- 9“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, https://index.hu/belfold/2017/11/02/tett_vedelem_kurucinfo_holokauszt/.
|Do state or nonstate actors employ legal, administrative, or other means to force publishers, content hosts, or digital platforms to delete content?||2.002 4.004|
The government and its allies sometimes employ court orders and pressure to compel publishers and content hosts to delete content. In April 2019, Hungary’s Supreme Court decided that the news site 444.hu violated the privacy rights of István Tiborcz, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s son-in-law, when it published a video interview with him without his explicit consent. The court ruled that Tiborcz was not a public figure and therefore entitled to greater privacy protections, and ordered the removal of the video.1 The decision stoked controversy, since Tiborcz has been the subject of numerous corruption allegations that analysts assert are relevant to the public interest.
After less than two years of operation, the political news site Zoom closed in December 2018. Former Zoom journalists anonymously said that the site’s owner pressured them to suppress, remove, or change stories that were potentially damaging to the government (see B5).2
Also in December 2018, the ECtHR ruled that 444.hu and its owner could not be held liable for linking to a third-party YouTube video allegedly defaming Jobbik, Hungary’s largest opposition political party.3 Previously, several domestic courts found that, by publishing a link to the video, 444.hu had assumed liability for the defamatory content it contained. The outlet was ordered to remove the link from its site.
In early 2018, the government-friendly television channel Echo TV aired an interview with a student activist who had been accused of receiving foreign funding, in which the student was humiliated by the interviewer. Later, the channel deleted the video, which was considered embarrassing to Echo TV, from its online platforms, and deployed copyright laws to force the removal of videos from YouTube and Facebook that used footage from the original interview.4
A 2016 ECtHR ruling found that Hungarian courts wrongly held two online outlets liable for user comments defaming a real estate business.5 The outlets deleted the defamatory comments once they received notice that legal action had been taken against them, but were nonetheless found guilty. The ECtHR decision has yet to be incorporated into Hungarian case law. As a result, most sites now prohibit comments altogether, filter comments, or encourage users to comment on social media pages instead, thus transferring liability to social media platforms.
In 2018, neither Facebook nor Twitter received any content removal requests from the government.6 The Hungarian government sent Google six content removal requests in 2018 (three for “privacy and security” reasons, two for trademark violations and one for defamation).7 Google complied with two of the requests.
- 1Péter Erdélyi, “Hungary’s Supreme Court rules that Prime Minister Orban’s wealthy son-in-law is not a public figure (so don’t approach him on the street and ask where that money comes from”, 444.hu, May 3, 2019, https://444.hu/2019/05/03/hungarys-supreme-court-rules-that-prime-minis….
- 2Pál Dániel Rényi, “This is what happens when a political adventurer makes a newspaper in Hungary”, [Ez történik, amikor a politikai kalandor újságot csinál Magyarországon], 444.hu, January 16, 2019, https://444.hu/2019/01/16/ez-tortenik-amikor-a-politikai-kalandor-ujsag….
- 3”Magyar Jeti Zrt v. Hungary,” Global Freedom of Expression (Columbia), accessed February 18, 2020, https://globalfreedomofexpression.columbia.edu/cases/magyar-jeti-zr-v-h….
- 4”Az Echo TV has its video deleted all over the internet in which the host humiliates a high school kid”, [Az Echo TV mindenhonnan letiltatja a videóját, amiben a műsorvezető egy középiskolás gyereket szívat], hvg.hu, February 5, 2018, https://hvg.hu/itthon/20180215_Az_Echo_TV_mindenhonnan_letilttatja_a_vi….
- 5”Magyar Tartalomszolgáltatók Egyesülete and Index.hu Zrt v. Hungary,” Global Freedom of Expression (Columbia), accessed February 18, 2020, https://globalfreedomofexpression.columbia.edu/cases/magyar-tartalomszo….
- 6”Hungary,” Twitter Transparency report, accessed February 18, 2020, https://transparency.facebook.com/content-restrictions/country/HU; https://transparency.twitter.com/en/countries/hu.html
- 7”Government requests to remove content,” Google Transparency Report, accessed February 18, 2020, https://transparencyreport.google.com/government-removals/by-country/HU.
|Do restrictions on the internet and digital content lack transparency, proportionality to the stated aims, or an independent appeals process?||3.003 4.004|
For the most part, restrictions on the internet are proportional, but vague language in the legal framework leaves some online outlets at risk for unjustified content removal. 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.”1 Further, the law states that the constitutional order and human rights must be respected, and that public morals cannot be violated.2 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 25 million Hungarian forints ($93,000).3 If a site repeatedly violates the laws, ISPs can be ordered to suspend the site’s domain, and as a last resort, the NMHH can delete the site from the administrative registry, making it illegal for it to publish content.4 Any such action can be appealed in court.5
Under the criminal code in effect since 2013, websites can be blocked for hosting unlawful content, such as defamation, Holocaust denial, or child abuse.6 Hosts are required to make content inaccessible, either temporarily or permanently, upon receiving a court order stating that the hosted content is illegal.7 The law stipulates that if the illegal content is hosted on a server located outside the country, a Hungarian court will issue a “query” to the minister of justice to make the content inaccessible; the minister then passes the query on to officials in the country where the content is hosted, and if there is no response from that state within 30 days, the court can order domestic ISPs to block the content.8 The prosecutor, the 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.9 The list, known as the Central Electronic Database of Decrees on Inaccessibility (KEHTA), went into effect in 2014, with the primary aim of fighting child pornography.
Though the law 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 two high-profile cases, Hungarian courts have held online news outlets liable for defamatory third-party content. The ECtHR has overruled the Hungarian courts in both instances (see B2). Additionally, in 2016, László Toroczkai, the far-right mayor of Ásotthalom, was held liable by a court for “disseminating” a defamatory comment posted by another user on his Facebook page, which stated that a journalist “should be hanged.” The court found that, by allowing comments on his page, Toroczkai had accepted responsibility for any unlawful content posted by others.10
According to Hungarian legislation, which is based on the EU E-Commerce Directive, ISPs and other intermediaries are not legally responsible for content so long as they serve as “mere conduits.”11 Intermediaries are also not obliged to verify the content they transmit, store, or make available, nor do they need to search for unlawful activity (see C6).12 However, Hungarian courts have tended to argue that this liability regime only applies to e-commerce and is not applicable to content that violates personality rights. Hosts are not liable for hosted content but must restrict access to content deemed illegal by a court.
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.”13 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 in 2011 that the provision could apply to a blog if it generates revenue and is registered as a media content provider with the NMHH.14
Hungary’s government supported the EU Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market in the European Council.15 Hungarian members of the European Parliament were divided on the measure, though most members from the ruling Fidesz party opposed it.16 The directive was passed by the European Parliament in April 2019. When implemented in Hungary, the directive will hold “online content sharing service providers” liable for copyright violations that take place on their platforms.17
- 1Act CIV of 2010, art. 17.
- 2Act CIV of 2010, art. 16, and art. 4, par. 3.
- 3Act CLXXXV of 2010, art. 186, par. 1, 187, par. 3. bf.
- 4Act CLXXXV of 2010, art. 187, par. 3. e, 189, par. 4.
- 5Zsófia Gergely, “Megszólalnak a bírók: jobbelugrani a kényesügyelől”, [The judges speak up: it is better to avoid politically sensitive cases], Hvg.hu, 1 March 2016, https://hvg.hu/itthon/20160301_birosag_biro_biroi_fuggetlenseg_tiltakoz….
- 6Act C of 2012, art. 77.
- 7Act CVIII of 2001, art. 12/A, Act XIX of 1998 on criminal proceedings, art. 158/B-158/D.
- 8Act XXXVIII of 1996 on International Assistance in Criminal Matters, art. 60/H.
- 9Act C of 2003 on electronic communication, art. 10, par. 28., art. 159/B.
- 10“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
- 11Act CVIII of 2001 on Electronic Commerce, art. 8, par. 1.
- 12Act CVIII of 2001, art. 7. par. 3.
- 13Act CIV of 2010, art. 1, par. 6.
- 14“Tanácsnokok és bloggerek,” [Members and bloggers] Mediatanacs-blog, January 11, 2011, https://magyarnemzet.hu/archivum/belfold-archivum/facebook-perek-sora-k….
- 15Julia Reda, “EU censorship machines and link tax laws are nearing the finish line,” Julia Reda- blog, May 25, 2018, https://juliareda.eu/2018/05/censorship-machines-link-tax-finish-line/.
- 16“Hungary,” Save your internet, accessed February 18, 2020, https://saveyourinternet.eu/hu/.
- 17Matt Reynolds, “What is Article 13? The EU's divisive new copyright plan explained,” Wired, May 24, 2019, https://www.wired.co.uk/article/what-is-article-13-article-11-european-….
|Do online journalists, commentators, and ordinary users practice self-censorship?||3.003 4.004|
In a 2017 survey, journalists told the Mérték Media Monitor that self-censorship is common, particularly in progovernment outlets.1
Online media outlets are pressured to only publish politically “safe” content and avoid covering controversial topics such as corruption, for fear of losing government advertisement placements (see B6).2
- 1Attila Mong, et al, “Soft Censorship in Hungary 2016: When Propaganda Rules Public Discourse,” Mertek Media Monitor, May 2017, https://mertek.eu/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/MertekFuzetek12.pdf.
- 2Attila 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, https://magyarnemzet.hu/archivum/belfold-archivum/facebook-perek-sora-k….
|Are online sources of information controlled or manipulated by the government or other powerful actors to advance a particular political interest?||2.002 4.004|
The ongoing consolidation of online media outlets in the hands of progovernment owners has led to significant manipulation of the online information landscape to benefit the ruling party. In November 2018, the owners of almost all government-friendly private media outlets, including many online news outlets, donated their holdings to a newly created Hungarian nonprofit entity called the Central European Press and Media Foundation (KESMA). According to one estimate, KESMA now owns 476 media outlets and controls 16 percent of the entire Hungarian media market.1 The establishment of KESMA was exempted from regulatory scrutiny because the government determined that its formation was “of national strategic importance in the public interest.”2
Observers have noted the increasing number of independent online outlets that have been acquired by progovernment entities in recent years; these acquisitions are often followed by shifts toward a more government-friendly editorial slant.3 During the coverage period, this trend continued apace. In September 2018, the media group cemp-X Online Zrt, which owns the country’s preeminent independent online news outlet, index.hu, among other publications, was sold by owner Zoltan Speder.4 The outlet’s editorial staff vowed to quit en masse in the event of editorial pressure from index.hu’s new owners, and a website has been set up to monitor the site’s independence.5 In August 2018, Orbán supporter Zsolt Nyerges bought a company whose holdings include Hir TV (which also publishes online) and a news website.6 After being purchased by Nyerges, the outlets reversed their editorial positions (previously, they were critical of the government) and fired journalists. These outlets were later donated to KESMA.
In addition to favorable coverage from privately owned online media, the government enjoys editorial control over several state-run media outlets that publish online. Since 2011, the state-owned Hungarian News Agency (MTI) has had a virtual monopoly in the news market.7 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 reporting and tend to republish MTI wire stories. An anonymous MTI journalist told the Mérték Media Monitor that the service introduced daily routines to support the government’s agenda, such as mandating that employees “write a summary of migrant-related scandals every day.”8 In 2018, the Guardian revealed that the government gives direct editorial orders to state television employees.9
In the Mérték Media Monitor’s 2017 survey, journalists rated the degree of political pressure they experience at 89 on a 100-point scale.10
Misinformation and progovernment messages continued to spread online during the reporting period, particularly in the run-up to the May 2019 European Parliament elections. For example, the government sponsored an online advertising campaign accusing European Commission President Jean-Claude Junker of taking part in a promigration conspiracy orchestrated by Hungarian-American philanthropist George Soros.11 In April 2019, a spokesperson for the Hungarian government published a manipulated photo in his blog that purported to show a credit card given out to migrants in the EU.12
In January 2018, 444.hu reported on a sophisticated network of unpaid users coordinated by Fidesz that share progovernment content on Facebook.13 Commenters are given directives, sometimes several a day, to post particular content within a specified timeline. Those providing the order then confirm that the content was posted. When users post memes, they are provided detailed instructions on how to create the images. Progovernment commentators remained active during the coverage period. Researchers at the Computational Propaganda Research Project at the University of Oxford also found evidence that progovernment bots, or automated accounts, were spreading friendly narratives, attacking the political opposition, and engaging in other forms of information manipulation on Facebook.14
Far-right blogs and news websites are known to circulate pro-Russia propaganda.15 Some spam Facebook with fake news.16 According to a 2017 study by the think tank Political Capital, pro-Russia news and content is disseminated “directly from [Hungarian] government-organized media.”17 According to a study by the European Values think-tank, a “large portion of mainstream media in Hungary are under the control of the government, some of them using Russian quasi-media like Sputnik or RT as their sources. In certain instances, known Russian disinformation centers are welcomed.”18
- 1Márton Bede, ”One Hungarian media monster to rule them all”, International Press Institute, December 12, 2018, https://ipi.media/one-hungarian-media-monster-to-rule-them-all/.
- 2Márton Bede, ”In Hungary, media freedom defenders turn to creative legal fightback”, International Press Institute, March 7, 2019, https://ipi.media/in-hungary-media-freedom-defenders-turn-to-creative-l….
- 3Mérték 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
- 4Sandor Peto and Krisztina Than, “Businessman sells company with indirect control over Hungary's main independent news website,“ Reuters, September 17, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-hungary-media-index/businessman-sell…
- 5”The index is currently...” SZA Bad Index, accessed February 18, 2020, https://szabadindex.eu/.
- 7Mátyás Vince: “The price of free – why we do not need a free of charge news agency”, [Az ingyenesség ára – miért nem kell díjmentes hírügynökség?], Médiakutató, 2012 summer issue, https://mediakutato.hu/cikk/2012_02_nyar/09_ingyenesseg_ara.
- 8Attila Mong, et al, „When Propaganda Rules Public Discourse – Soft Censorship in Hungary 2016,” Mérték Média Monitor, p. 55, https://mertek.eu/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/MertekFuzetek12.pdf.
- 9Daniel Nolan, Shaun Walker, “Hungarian journalists admit role in forging anti-migrant atmosphere of fear’”, The Guardian, April 13, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/apr/13/hungary-journalists-state….
- 10Attila Mong, et al, “When Propaganda Rules Public Discourse – Soft Censorship in Hungary 2016,” Mérték Média Monitor, p. 55, http://bit.ly/2Cf0EVQ
- 11Jennifer Rankin, ”Brussels accuses Orbán of peddling conspiracy theory with Juncker poster,” The Guardian, February 19, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/feb/19/brussels-orban-jean-claud….
- 12”Migrant Debit Cards: A Tool of Terrorism? Yes, so vote FIDESZ,” Hungarian Spectrum, April 10, 2019, https://hungarianspectrum.org/2019/04/10/migrant-debit-cards-a-tool-of-….
- 13Haszanz, ”[A Fidesz Facebook soldier told us about the virtual army the party had created],” 444, January 30, 2018, https://444.hu/2018/01/30/a-fidesz-egyik-facebook-katonaja-elmeselte-mi….
- 14Samantha Bradshaw and Philip N. Howard, ”The Global Disinformation Order: 2019 Global Inventory of Organised Social Media Manipulation,” Computational Propaganda Research Project, accessed February 18, 2020, https://comprop.oii.ox.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/sites/93/2019/09/CyberT…
- 15László Tamás Papp-Babett Oroszi, “Nemzeti radikális hírportálok: Oroszország magyar hangjai”, [National Radical Newsportals: The Hungarian Voice of Russia], Atlatszo.hu, August 26, 2014, https://atlatszo.hu/2014/08/26/nemzeti-radikalis-hirportalok-oroszorsza….
- 16András Dezső-Szabolcs Panyi, ”We Are Not Paid Agents of Russia, We Do It out of Conviction”, Index, January 30, 2017, https://index.hu/english/2017/01/30/we_are_not_paid_agents_of_russia_we….
- 17Lóránt Győri et al, “Does Russia interfere in Czech, Austrian and Hungarian elections?” 2017, p 12, https://www.politicalcapital.hu/pc-admin/source/documents/western_exper….
- 18European Values Think-Tank, “2018 Ranking of Countermesures by EU28 to the Kremlin’s subversion operations, “ p. 54, krelminwatch.eu, June 13, 2018, https://www.kremlinwatch.eu/userfiles/2018-ranking-of-countermeasures-b….
|Are there economic or regulatory constraints that negatively affect users’ ability to publish content online?||1.001 3.003|
Online media outlets in particular face some economic and regulatory obstacles.
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 Media Services and Support Trust Fund (MTVA), the body responsible for producing content for public media.1 The members of the Media Council are nominated and elected by a parliamentary majority, then appointed by the president.2 Online media outlets are required to register with the NMHH within 60 days of starting operations.3
Some of the decisions of the Media Council have been regarded as politicized. For instance, the Media Council permitted the newly created, progovernment KESMA (see B5) to skirt a regulation aimed at preventing market concentration.4 Critics contend that the Media Council operates with unclear provisions and can impose high fines,5 which could lead to uncertainty, fear, and self-censorship among journalists. The former Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (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.”6
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.7 As the Hungarian online advertisement market is not yet fully developed, this loss in revenue poses a significant threat to the operations of independent online outlets.
On the other hand, the Hungarian government has increasingly channeled advertising revenue to benefit outlets that publish progovernment content. During the coverage period, the government placed digital ads related to the European parliamentary elections in progovernment outlets. Previously, in 2017, the government ran an online and offline ad campaign (billed as a “national consultation”) alleging that George Soros was conspiring with the EU to inundate Hungary with immigrants. In 2016, the government ran a similar campaign in the run-up to a referendum on whether Hungary should abide by EU refugee resettlement quotas. National consultations and other large-scale, government financed media campaigns are an integral part of the government’s communications strategy; in the first three months of 2019, the government spent 15.4 billion forints ($54 million) on communications.8 The political nature of government advertising, which gives partisan outlets a financial advantage, has further distorted the online media landscape. According to 2018 data, over a third of all online news outlets in Hungary depend on the government for at least a third of their advertising revenue.9 According to a March 2019 analysis by the Mérték Media Monitor, progovernment outlets control around 50 percent of the online media market (in terms of revenue).10
The introduction of an advertisement tax, which media outlets pay based on their advertising revenues, is also a burden for some media outlets, particularly smaller online ventures.11 In 2015, the tax was converted from a progressive tax into a flat tax,12 as the European Commission started investigating whether the tax harms competition.13 In May 2019, the government decided to decrease the tax to 0 percent,14 although the European Court of Justice found that the tax had not violated EU law.15
Online outlets have increasingly used crowdfunding to support their operations, including the investigative sites Átlátszó and Dirket36, which are financed by reader donations. 444.hu, hvg.hu, and the country’s most popular news site, index.hu, utilize crowdfunding to supplement their market revenues.
In the Mérték Media Monitor’s 2017 survey, journalists rated the degree of economic pressure they experience at 74 on a 100-point scale.16
In 2016, the NMHH started enforcing EU net neutrality regulations. Two mobile internet providers, Magyar 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 appealed, but the decision was upheld in the Telenor case in 2017.
- 1Act CLXXXV of 2010, art. 136. par. 11.
- 2Act CLXXXV of 2010, art. 124.
- 3“[NMHH: The 21st Century Modern Authority],” NMHH, accessed February 18, 2020, http://nmhh.hu/dokumentum/170789/nmhh_kiadvany_hun.pdf; “Hungary,” Freedom of the Press 2016, Freedom House, accessed February 18, 2020, https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-press/2016/hungary.
- 4Zoltán János, “[The Fidesz Media Foundation is almost certainly breaking the law, but the authority sees no problem],” G7, February 22, 2019, https://g7.hu/kozelet/20190222/szinte-biztosan-torvenyt-sert-a-fideszes….
- 5Article 19, Hungarian media laws Q&A, August 2011, https://www.article19.org/data/files/medialibrary/2714/11-09-01-REPORT-….
- 6OSCE, “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
- 7Ágnes Urbán, Attila Bátorfy, “State advertising in Hungary 2006-2017,” [Állami hirdetések Magyarországon, 2006-2017], Mérték Media Monitor, February 23, 2018, https://mertek.atlatszo.hu/allami-hirdetesek-magyarorszagon-2006-2017/.
- 8Pál Dániel Rényi,”Government spent 15 billion on communication in 3 months”, [Három hónap alatt 15 milliárdot költött a kormány kommunikációra], 444.hu, April 24, 2019, https://444.hu/2019/04/24/harom-honap-alatt-15-milliardot-koltott-a-kor….
- 9”[Measure]” Atlatszo, accessed Febraury 18, 2020, https://mertek.atlatszo.hu/allamihirdetesek/.
- 10Mérték Médiaelemző Műhely, ”Fidesz-friendly media dominate everywhere,” Mertek, May 2, 2019, https://mertek.eu/en/2019/05/02/fidesz-friendly-media-dominate-everywhe…
- 11Act XXII of 2014 on the Advertisement Tax.
- 12Pricewaterhouse Cooper, "Changing advertising tax rates," May 27, 2015, http://pwc.to/1MEwHKp.
- 13"State aid: Commission opens in-depth investigation into Hungarian advertisement tax," European Commission, March 12, 2015, https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/IP_15_4598.
- 14”IT seems that advertisement tax is over from 2020”, [Úgy tűnik, 2020-tól vége a reklámadónak], portfolio.hu, June 17, 2019, https://www.portfolio.hu/gazdasag/20190617/ugy-tunik-2020-tol-vegleg-ve….
- 15“Europen Court of Justice ruled for Government in case on advertisement tax”, [ kormánynak adott igazat az Európai Bíróság a reklámadó ügyében], index.hu, June 27, 2019, https://index.hu/gazdasag/ado_es_koltsegvetes/2019/06/27/reklamado_euro….
- 16Attila Mong, et al, „When Propaganda Rules Public Discourse – Soft Censorship in Hungary 2016,” Mérték Média Monitor, p. 55, https://mertek.eu/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/MertekFuzetek12.pdf.
- 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://nmhh.hu/cikk/172521/A_megkulonboztetestol_mentes_internetezesert….
- 18“Another decision for non-discriminatory internet”, [Újabb döntés a megkülönböztetéstől mentes internetezésért], National Media and Infocommunications Authority, January 27, 2017, http://nmhh.hu/cikk/172521/A_megkulonboztetestol_mentes_internetezesert….
|Does the online information landscape lack diversity?||3.003 4.004|
The online media environment in Hungary is relatively diverse, though independent outlets face increasing pressure and the purchase of online outlets by progovernment entities has negatively impacted diversity. The number of independent and opposition online outlets continues to shrink.
In December 2018, political news site Zoom closed down (see B2). After the 2018 parliamentary elections, both the print and online editions of the 80-year-old Magyar Nemzet, one of the leading political dailies, was closed down. Its owner, Lajos Simicska, an ally turned enemy of Orbán, blamed the closure on financial struggles at the paper.1 In February 2019, the political daily Magyar Idők was rebranded and continued its operations under the name Magyar Nemzet with a strong progovernment message.2 Simicska has also shuttered several other media outlets. The timing of the closures suggests a political motivation behind the decisions. Also in April 2018, after four years of operation, English-language online news outlet the Budapest Beacon was closed. Richard Field, managing editor of the 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.”3
In 2016, Hungary’s leading opposition newspaper and online news portal, Népszabadság, abruptly shut down. Though the owner said it was a business decision, journalists and NGOs regarded the move as a consequence of political pressure. Before it 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 the former mayor of Felcsút, Orbán’s hometown.4 Mészáros also owns 13 of the 18 regional papers in Hungary through Mediaworks; the remaining regional publications belong to two other prominent businessmen close to the current government.5
Mediaworks has since become the leading corporation in KESMA, functioning as owner of the other member organizations. In secretly recorded footage that surfaced in May 2019, former Austrian vice chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache told a woman claiming to be a wealthy Russian citizen that he was willing to cooperate with her to “build a media landscape [in Austria] like Orbán.”6 To do this, he suggested that the woman recruit Austrian businessman Heinrich Pecina, the former owner of Mediaworks, who he described as the “investor who bought and prepared every major paper for Orbán in the last 15 years.”7
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 (see C7).8
The online media landscape is otherwise relatively diverse. Independent online media outlets have given a voice to minorities, including Hungary’s Roma community,9 the LGBT+ community, and religious groups.
- 1”Hungarian opposition daily Magyar Nemzet to shut down”, Business Insider, April 10, 2018, https://read.bi/2I09RBA
- 2Ágnes Benke: ”Magyar Idők will be published under the name of Magyar Nemzet”, [Magyar Nemzet néven jelenik meg a Magyar Idők], February 2, 2019, 24.hu, https://24.hu/kozelet/2019/02/02/magyar-nemzet-lesz-a-magyar-idok/.
- 3Ádám Lestyánszky, ”The Budapest Beacon exit interview”, Budapest Beacon, April 13, 2018, https://budapestbeacon.com/the-budapest-beacon-exit-interview/.
- 4”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, https://hvg.hu/kkv/20170303_nem_titkoljak_tovabb_meszaros_lorince_az_op….
- 5Justin Spike, ”Fidesz-tied oligarchs now control all 18 regional newspapers,” The Budapest Beacon, August 5, 2017, https://budapestbeacon.com/fidesz-tied-oligarchs-now-control-18-regiona….
- 6Zia Weise, “Austrian far-right leader filmed offering public contracts for campaign support”, Politico.eu, May 17, 2019, https://politi.co/2YJIpzi
- 7Sándor Czinkóczi, ”Strache suggested the same businessman to the Russians who earlier closed down Népszabadság”, [Strache ugyanazt az üzeltembert ajánlotta az ororszoknak, aki bezárta a Népszabadságot], 444.hu, May 18, 2019, https://444.hu/2019/05/18/strache-ugyanazt-az-uzletembert-ajanlotta-az-….
- 8Péter Erdélyi, Péter Magyari, Gergő Plankó,"Deutsche Telekom, Hungarian government collude to silence independent media," 444, June 5, 2014, https://444.hu/2014/06/05/deutsche-telekom-hungarian-government-collude….
- 9Borbala Toth, “Minorities in the Hungarian media. Campaigns, projects and programmes for integration” (Center for Independent Journalism: Budapest, 2011): 19.
|Do conditions impede users’ ability to mobilize, form communities, and campaign, particularly on political and social issues?||5.005 6.006|
Social media platforms are freely available and have grown increasingly popular as a tool for advocacy. Social media were also used during the coverage period to organize several protests.
According to a new law on assembly that came into effect in October 2018, organizers are obliged to notify the police of any demonstration 48 hours before publicly announcing it. Those who fail to notify the police first are committing a misdemeanor and can be fined. Additionally, inviting participants to a demonstration banned by the police is now a crime.1 In January 2019, a member of Momentum, a newly established political party, was fined 100,000 forints ($360) for publishing a call for a demonstration on Facebook prior to notifying local police.2 Previously, the police accepted notification through email, but under the new law, organizers are required to download government-operated software and fill in a dedicated form. In March 2019, one protest organizer received a warning after notifying the police via email instead of using the required software.
After the adoption of a new law (dubbed the “Slave Law”) in December 2018 allowing employers to extend overtime quotas, large-scale demonstrations, often organized via Facebook, were held in Budapest and other major cities. Opposition legislators often catalyzed the demonstrations by livestreaming their actions from venues that were not accessible to the public, such as the parliament floor or the headquarters of public media outlets. The popular hashtag #O1G, which is an abbreviation that translates to a vulgar insult in Hungarian against Orbán, was used online and offline to communicate dissatisfaction with the Hungarian government.3
Online petitions are also popular in Hungary. For example, over 8,000 people signed an online petition entitled “We are on the Soros list, too!”4 after the progovernment weekly magazine Figyelő published the names of nearly 200 alleged “Soros mercenaries” in April 2018.5
- 1Act C of 2012 on the Criminal Code, Article 2017/C
- 2”100 ezer forintra büntették a Momentum Szombathelyi elnökét”, [Szombathely party chief fined for 100 thousand forints], 24.hu, January 15, 2019, https://24.hu/kozelet/2019/01/15/szombathely-momentum-buntetes-gyulekez….
- 3Shaun Walker, ”Hungary: pithy insults fly as anti-Orbán protesters resort to ridicule”, The Guardian, January 21, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jan/21/hungary-pithy-insult-dogs….
- 4“[We're on the Soros list too!]”, Change,org, accessed February 18, 2020, https://perma.cc/HC82-7M7F.
- 5Pablo 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…
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 law grants authorities access to encrypted communications. Judicial independence is under increasing pressure from the government.
|Do the constitution or other laws fail to protect rights such as freedom of expression, access to information, and press freedom, including on the internet, and are they enforced by a judiciary that lacks independence?||4.004 6.006|
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 overly broad scope and lack of clarity.2 An amendment inserted into the Fundamental Law in 2016 gives the government the power to override acts of the parliament for up to 15 days if a state of emergency is declared following a terrorist attack.3 In June 2018, another amendment was inserted into the Fundamental Law, which declares that freedom of expression cannot violate the private and family lives of others or the integrity of the home.4
A 2011 overhaul of the judiciary called into question the independence of the court system. The European Court of Justice found that the Hungarian government violated EU law after it enacted an amendment that abruptly decreased the obligatory retirement age for judges from 70 to 62, removing the most senior judges from the judiciary.5 After Tünde Handó, the spouse of a Fidesz member of the European Parliament, was elected by the parliament to lead the National Office of the Judiciary (OBH), she repeatedly attempted to curtail judicial independence, including through the imposition of an integrity code that enabled the OBH to threaten and intimidate judges. The Constitutional Court declared the integrity code unconstitutional in 2017, but judges remain susceptible to political interference.6
In the final days of 2018, the parliament established a new administrative court system, to be filled with judges whose appointments would be controlled by the minister of justice, in contravention of the principle of separation of powers.7 Their jurisdiction would have covered cases related to freedom of information, the right to protest, election law, and other matters in which the continued independence of the existing courts stymied the government.8 Decisions of the NMHH would have also been overseen by the new administrative courts. In March 2019, the Venice Commission warned that, with the establishment of the court system, “very extensive powers are concentrated in the hands of a few stakeholders and there are no effective checks and balances to counteract those powers.”9 However, after the European Parliament elections in May 2019, the Hungarian government postponed the launch of the administrative court system, presumably in an effort to be reinstated by the European People’s Party, which suspended the membership of Fidesz in March over its antidemocratic practices.10
- 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,” June 17, 2013, https://www.venice.coe.int/webforms/documents/default.aspx?pdffile=cdl-….
- 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, https://www.idea.int/sites/default/files/publications/annual-review-of-….
- 4The Fundamental Law of Hungary (25 April 2011) art. VI., 1.
- 5ECJ, 6 November 2012, Case C—286/12.
- 6”Constitutional Court rules that OBH behaior code violates judicial independence”, The Budapest Beacon, December 1, 2017, https://budapestbeacon.com/constitutional-court-rules-obh-behavior-code….
- 7Valerie Hopkins, Michael Peel, ”Hungary tightens control over judiciary with new court system”, Financial Times, December 12, 2018, https://on.ft.com/2QvlCax
- 8Act CXXX of 2018 on Administrative Courts, Section 1
- 9”On the entry into force of the law on administrative courts and certain transitional rules,” European Commission for Democracy through Law, March 19, 2019, https://www.venice.coe.int/webforms/documents/?pdf=CDL-AD(2019)004-e.
- 10Zoltán Kovács, ”Hungarian Government postpones the introduction of administrative courts due to international pressure, index.hu, June 3, 2019, https://index.hu/english/2019/06/03/administrative_courts_postponed_hun….
|Are there laws that assign criminal penalties or civil liability for online activities?||2.002 4.004|
There are a number of laws that can potentially be misused to penalize legitimate online activities. The Hungarian criminal code bans defamation, slander, humiliation of national symbols (the national anthem, flag, and coat of arms), dissemination of totalitarian symbols (the swastika and the red star), denial of the sins of National Socialism and communism, and public scaremongering through the media.1 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.2
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.3 In 2013, the Criminal Code was modified to include prison sentences for defamatory video or audio content. Anyone creating such a video can be punished with up to one year in prison, while anyone publishing such a recording can be imprisoned for 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.4 The amendment was condemned by both domestic and international actors for threatening freedom of expression and targeting the media.5 While libel and defamation are generally prosecuted by the alleged 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: their photograph and fingerprints are taken before the court proceedings commence.6
A new civil code, which took effect in 2014, also protects citizens from defamation and insults to their honor,7 and compels those who are found responsible to pay restitution.8 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.9
In 2017, Hungary’s parliament passed a law requiring NGOs receiving more than 7.2 million forints ($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, which the government claimed was necessary to control the so-called threat of foreign meddling in such organizations.10 Violations of these rules can lead to fines, and, ultimately, the dissolution of the organization. However, the government has been reluctant to enforce the legislation, despite the fact that many NGOs have publicly announced that they are not abiding by the new rules.11 Local groups have expressed concerns that the law will stigmatize independent groups as well as interfere with their work.12 In 2017, the European Commission launched an infringement procedure against the law.13
The so-called “Stop Soros” law passed in June 2018 includes vaguely worded provisions penalizing any activity that “facilitates or supports illegal immigration,” which includes assisting individuals who are entering or remaining in Hungary illegally.14 These penalties presumably apply to online activities. However, there have been no prosecutions under the law to date.
- 1Act C of 2012, art. 226, 227, 332–335.
- 2Péter 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.
- 3Act C of 2012, art. 227.
- 4Act C of 2012, art. 226/A and 226/B.
- 5Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, “Tightening of the Criminal Code is Unconstitutional,” November 14, 2013, https://tasz.hu/en/political-freedoms/tightening-criminal-code-unconsti…; 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, https://ifex.org/new-law-further-restricts-freedom-of-speech-and-freedo….
- 6Benjamin Novak, “Threat of prosecution for defamation has chilling effect says HCLU,” The Budapest Beacon, November 3, 2015, https://budapestbeacon.com/threat-of-prosecution-for-defamation-has-chi…+.
- 7Act V of 2013 on the Civil Code, art. 2:45.
- 8Act V of 2013 on the Civil Code, art. 2:52–53.
- 9Bill Nr. T/7971, art. 2:44.
- 10“Soros’s native Hungary approves crackdown on foreign funded NGOs,” Bloomberg, June 13, 2017, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-06-13/soros-s-native-hunga….
- 11Balázs Pivarnyik, ”NGOs vow to resist new law stigmatizing ’foreign-funded’ civil organizations,” The Budapest Beacon, June 16, 2017, https://budapestbeacon.com/ngos-vow-to-resist-new-law-stigmatizing-fore….
- 12“Bill seeks to stifle independent groups,” The Hungarian Helsinki Committee, June 12, 2017, http://www.helsinki.hu/en/hungary-bill-seeks-to-stifle-independent-grou…
- 13Lili Bayer, ”Brussels launches infringement proceedings against Hungary,” Politico.eu, July 13, 2017, http://politi.co/2olCPTH
- 14“The Constituional Court has failed to protect uman rights defenders”, Hungarian Helsinki Committee, March 6, 2019, https://www.helsinki.hu/en/the-constitutional-court-has-failed-to-prote….
|Are individuals penalized for online activities?||4.004 6.006|
There were no reported detentions for online activities during the coverage period. However, public officials have been known to initiate civil and criminal proceedings against ordinary citizens for their activities online, including comments and even sharing content on social media, as well as blog posts. 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.1 Online media outlets frequently face civil proceedings related to the content they produce, and many have in-house counsel to deal with the volume of claims. A handful of prominent civil cases related to online activities were reported during the coverage period.
In November 2018, an index.hu journalist, András Dezső, was found guilty of abusing personal data by a Budapest court, and was given a warning. Using publicly available data, the journalist had cast doubt on the credibility of a person who claimed that she relocated to Hungary from Sweden because of the large refugee population in the latter country.2 After the coverage period, Dezső was acquitted on appeal.3
In August 2018, after a blogger published a critical piece on a planned administrative reform introduced by the mayor of Tatabánya, the mayor initiated a criminal defamation procedure against the author. In June 2018, a citizen journalist published a harsh satirical article about the mayor of Ajka. The mayor responded by initiating a criminal defamation procedure against the author.
In 2015, the then mayor of the town of Siófok initiated criminal proceedings against 17 Facebook users after they shared a post about suspicious real estate deals involving the mayor.4 In 2016, the first instance court found that no crime was committed and terminated the criminal procedure. The former mayor has appealed the decision.5
- 1“Criticism of Public Officials Is a Right and a Duty!” Liberties.eu, November 10, 2015, https://www.liberties.eu/en/news/new-campaign-from-hclu/5858.
- 2Máté Vaskor, "Index journalist warned by the court”, [Megrovást szabott ki a bíróság az Index újságírójára], 24.hu, November 30, 2018, https://24.hu/belfold/2018/11/30/dezso-andras-index-megrovas/.
- 3”The Index reporter did not commit any crime” [Az Index újságírója nem követett el bűncselekményt], Index, September 4, 2019, https://index.hu/belfold/2019/09/04/dezso_andras_nem_bunozo/.
- 4László 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, https://444.hu/2015/11/27/sima-facebook-megosztasert-hallgattak-ki-es-r….
- 5Imre Fónai, “Facebook-per:a siófoki expolgármester nem hagyja annyiban” [Facebook trial: Siófok ex-Mayor will not give up], sonline.hu, June 23, 2016, https://www.sonline.hu/somogy/kozelet-somogy/facebook-per-a-siofoki-exp….
|Does the government place restrictions on anonymous communication or encryption?||2.002 4.004|
Some laws restrict online anonymity in Hungary. Generally, users who wish to comment on web articles need to register with the website by providing an email address or their social media credentials. The operator of a website may be asked to provide the authorities with a commenter’s IP address, email address, and other data in case of an investigation (see B6).1 Additionally, users must provide personal data upon purchase of a SIM card in order to sign a contract with a mobile service provider.2
In 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, and obligates 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 (see C6).3 The legislation revealed the authorities’ intent to undermine encryption, though it is unclear how it is enforced.
- 1Act XIX of 1998 on criminal proceedings, art. 178/A, par. 1.
- 2Act C of 2003 on Electronic Communications, art. 129
- 3“Hungarian parliament about to enact new anti-terror laws,” Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, May 3, 2016, https://hclu.hu/en/articles/hungarian-parliament-is-about-to-enact-new-….
|Does state surveillance of internet activities infringe on users’ right to privacy?||3.003 6.006|
The lack of judicial oversight of state surveillance of ICTs, combined with evidence suggesting that the Hungarian government has purchased invasive surveillance, raises concerns about the degree to which the right to privacy online is protected. Concerns that the government is abusing state surveillance powers abound.
In November 2018, Átlátszó reported that the Hungarian government had contracted a private company to monitor content in various social media networks.1
Rather than allow opposition lawmakers to scrutinize state surveillance activities, legislators from the ruling Fidesz party have refused to sit for sessions of the parliament’s National Security Committee, which has oversight powers. As a result, Fidesz lawmakers prevented the committee from achieving a meeting quorum throughout 2018.2
In 2016, the ECtHR found that the law on surveillance is in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.3 However, to date no amendment to the law has been made to align it with European standards. Among the problematic elements of the law is a provision that allows the minister of justice to approve the surveillance of individuals,4 rather than a judge.5
Reports indicate that the government may be abusing its surveillance powers to spy on civil society organizations. In 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 surveillance activities said that no illegal surveillance took place.6 In 2016, the NGO Károly Eötvös Public Policy Institute reported finding a surveillance device on computer equipment in its office. The government denied any link to the device. The public prosecutor subsequently ordered an investigation into the allegations, which was later closed for lack of evidence.7
Government representatives, including Szilárd Németh, deputy leader of Fidesz, have recently taken to justifying any potential surveillance of local NGOs by claiming the organizations are “foreign agents” whose primary goal is to undermine the government, frequently referring to the polarizing figure of George Soros.8
Several privacy and digital rights organizations claim that Hungarian authorities have purchased potentially invasive surveillance technologies in recent years. In 2015, files leaked from the Milan-based commercial spyware company Hacking Team revealed that the Hungarian government was a client.9 In 2013, the Canadian digital rights organization Citizen Lab also reported finding a FinFisher command and control server, which facilitates surveillance, in Hungary.10 Though it is not clear whether the server is operated by the government or other actors, the software is marketed to governments.11
- 1Katalin Erdelyi, “[Antagon Rogán is monitoring the Internet on the basis of keywords, and is fighting the spread of false news],” Atlatszo, October 31, 2018, https://blog.atlatszo.hu/2018/10/rogan-antalek-kulcsszavak-alapjan-figy….
- 2András Dezső, “This year was full of dark secrets”, [Sötét titkok éve volt az idei], index.hu, December 30, 2018, https://index.hu/belfold/2018/12/30/sotet_titkok_eve_volt_az_idei/.
- 3Szabó and Vissy v. Hungary, Application no, 37138/14., 14 January 2016.
- 4Act 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.
- 5The complaint can be downloaded at: http://ekint.org/ekint_files/File/constitutionalcomplaint_tek.pdf
- 6József Spirk, “Egy ügyvédet lehallgattak, a többiek csak a jeleit észlelték” [Attorney tapped, others suspect the same], index.hu April 21, 2016, https://index.hu/belfold/2016/04/21/egy_ugyvedi_iroda_lehallgatasa_miat….
- 7Viktória Serdült, ”Prosecutor orders investigation into surveillance bug found in NGO office,” The Budapest Beacon, July 14, 2016, https://budapestbeacon.com/prosecutor-orders-investigation-surveillance….
- 8Máté Dániel Szabó: ”What is Szilárd Németh using the secret services for?”, [Mire használja Németh Szilárd a titkosszolgálatokat?], ataszjelenti.blog.hu, March 14, 2016, https://ataszjelenti.blog.hu/2017/03/14/mire_hasznalja_nemeth_szilard_a….
- 9Alex Hern, “Hacking Team hack casts spotlight on murky world of state surveillance”, The Guardian, July 11, 2015, https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/jul/11/hacking-team-hack-st….
- 10Tamás 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, https://atlatszo.hu/2013/09/16/nem-csak-az-usa-szeme-lat-mindent-korman….
- 11Morgan Marquis-Boireet. al. “For their eyes only: The Commercialization of Digital Spying,” Citizen Lab, September 16, 2013, https://citizenlab.org/2013/04/for-their-eyes-only-2/.
|Are service providers and other technology companies required to aid the government in monitoring the communications of their users?||4.004 6.006|
The Electronic Communications Act obliges service providers to collect the data of their users indiscriminately and transfer it to state authorities when requested. The process lacks transparency.
ISPs and mobile service providers in Hungary must retain user data for up to one year and provide that data to the authorities upon request.1 There is no publicly available information on how often providers hand over user data, despite the fact that the government has a legal obligation to provide the European Commission with statistics on user data requests made by investigating authorities.2 Electronic communications services are also obligated to “cooperate with organizations authorized to perform intelligence information gathering and covert acquisition of data.”3 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.”4
In 2016, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union launched litigation against two major mobile service providers in an attempt to force the Constitutional Court to annul data retention requirements.5 This litigation remains ongoing. National security services can currently gather metadata “from telecommunications systems and other data storage devices” without a warrant.6 Security agents can access and record the content of communications transmitted via ICTs, though a warrant is required to do so.7 Privacy experts say the authorities have installed black boxes allowing them direct access to ISPs’ networks.8 There is no data on the extent to which, or how regularly, the authorities monitor ICTs.
- 1Act C of 2003, art. 159/A
- 2Act C of 2003, art. 159/A, par. 7.
- 3Act 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.
- 4Act C of 2003, art. 92, par. 2.
- 5Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, “Data retention – yet again”, [Adatmegőrzés – sokadszor], July 11, 2016, https://tasz.hu/cikkek/adatmegorzes-sokadszor.
- 6Act CXXV of 1995 on the National Security Services, Art. 54.
- 7Act CXXV of 1995, art. 56.
- 8“Hungary – Privacy Profile,” Privacy International, January 22, 2011.
|Are individuals subject to extralegal intimidation or physical violence by state authorities or any other actor in retribution for their online activities?||5.005 5.005|
Bloggers and ordinary ICT users are not generally subject to extralegal intimidation or physical violence by state authorities or any other actors. There were no reported incidents during the coverage period. However, in 2017, a reporter from 444.hu was allegedly intimidated and physically assaulted by a government official during a public forum.1 While the police found no evidence of illegal activity, they declined to distribute the video that served as the journalist’s evidence of the assault. The official then initiated a criminal defamation case in late 2017 against the journalist.2 A first-instance decision was expected in 2019.
- 1Daniel Ács, plankog, and Júlia Halász, “[444 reporter dragged down on stairs, her phone taken away]”, 444.hu, May 5, 2017, https://444.hu/2017/05/05/lerangattak-a-lepcson-a-444-tudositojat-es-el….
- 2Attila Kálmán, “[It’s the videojournalist of 444 who has to go to court, not the Fidesz member],” 24.hu, October 24, 2017, https://24.hu/belfold/2017/10/24/a-444-videosa-all-birosag-ele-nem-a-fi….
|Are websites, governmental and private entities, service providers, or individual users subject to widespread hacking and other forms of cyberattack?||3.003 3.003|
In the past, technical attacks in Hungary have been primarily perpetrated by nonstate actors against government websites, particularly by the international group Anonymous. In 2015, Anonymous Operation Hungary, the group’s Hungarian branch, started a “war” on the government and Fidesz.1 In 2017, the group targeted online outlets considered progovernment, including PestiSracok, Origo, and the government think tank Századvég.2 These attacks remain fairly sporadic.
- 1“Nemzetközi háború a kormány ellen?” [International war on the government?], 24.hu, December 26, 2015, https://24.hu/belfold/2015/12/26/nemzetkozi-haboru-a-magyar-kormany-ell….
- 2“Akcióba lendült a magyar Anonymous” [Hungarian Anonymous in action], 24.hu, May 2, 2017, https://24.hu/tech/2017/05/02/akcioba-lendult-a-magyar-anonymous/.
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Global Freedom Score69 100 partly free
Internet Freedom Score70 100 free
Freedom in the World StatusPartly Free