Hungary | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

Hungary

Hungary

Freedom of the Press 2005

2005 Scores

Press Status

Free

Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)

21

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

8

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

8

The constitution guarantees freedom of expression and of the press. Independent media operate freely in Hungary, although still in a highly politicized atmosphere. In May, the Constitutional Court ruled that a controversial law mandating prison terms for hate speech was unconstitutional. Journalists this year faced persecution under antiquated media laws because the legislature has been slow to approve much needed new laws. For the first time since the fall of Communism, a journalist was sentenced to jail with no parole for libeling a Liberal Democrat parliamentarian. The editor of a right-wing newspaper was sentenced to 10 months in prison, and a second journalist was given a suspended 8-month prison sentence. In July, an appeals court upheld the guilty conviction but suspended the prison sentence for two years. In November, also a first in post-Communist Hungary, a journalist was indicted and prosecuted under an outdated 1970s secrecy law for an article that cited a police memorandum.

Hungarians have access to a diverse range of privately owned print outlets, all of which frequently criticize the government. Even though the government does not restrict foreign and private media or Internet use, political controversy continues to trouble state-owned media, which include two television stations and a national radio station. A 1996 media law requires both ruling and opposition parties to share appointments to the state media watchdog, the National Radio and Television Authority (ORTT). ORTT silenced Tilos Radio for a month in January after receiving complaints over anti-Christian remarks made in one of the station's broadcasts; a court ruling subsequently overturned the ORTT decision. The national station, Hungarian Television (MTV), remains politicized; in February, ORTT ruled that MTV failed to report on opposition party activities. The opposition frequently accused the new Socialist Liberal government of editorial interference in MTV and other state-owned media.

Some believe that high media concentration and extensive foreign ownership are damaging media pluralism. In general, the sale of political newspapers has fallen. A prominent daily paper faced closure this year after its Swiss owner, Ringier, tried to close the paper for business reasons, triggering sharp protests by other newspapers and journalists associations.