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Hungary / Freedom of expression: UN expert still concerned despite moves on controversial media legislation

BUDAPEST (5 April 2011) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion expression, Frank La Rue, highlighted his outstanding concerns* regarding the criticized Hungarian media legislation, at the end of his visit to Hungary.

“The media legislation still risks generating a climate of self-censorship,” said Mr. La Rue, while noting that the Hungarian Parliament has adopted some amendments in March. “Freedom of the media is an essential foundation of democracy. Hence, every State must ensure that every medium of communication, be it television, radio, press or the Internet, can convey diverse opinions, including those that shock, offend or disturb.”

The UN independent human rights expert highlighted key elements of the media law package, such as prescription of media content based on vague concepts and insufficient guarantees to ensure the independence and impartiality of the regulatory body empowered to apply the law.

Mr. La Rue also drew attention to excessive fines and other administrative sanctions that can be imposed on media; broad scope of the law to regulate all types of media, including the press and the Internet; registration requirements for the operation of media service providers; and lack of sufficient protection of journalistic sources.

The Special Rapporteur noted that these concerns have also been raised by independent experts on the right to freedom of expression of the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Stressing that broad public consultations with representatives of the media, civil society and other stakeholders were lacking prior to the adoption of the two Acts last year, Mr. La Rue welcomed the pledge made by the Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights, Minorities and Religious Matters to engage with him on public consultations as “an important step”, which he hoped would also include the executive and judicial branches of the State.

However, the independent expert also stressed the importance of addressing broader concerns regarding the “media law package” as a whole, as well as ongoing constitutional reforms, which would also have implications on the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

“I am deeply grateful for the invitation by the Government to continue our ongoing dialogue and cooperation regarding the media legislation to bring it in line with Hungary’s international human rights obligations,” Mr. La Rue said.

“As the current Presidency of the Council of the European Union, I hope that the Government of Hungary will serve as a model in the region by fully guaranteeing the right to freedom of expression,” said the Special Rapporteur, who also encouraged the Government to submit a concrete plan of action to bring the media Acts into conformity with international human rights standards prior to the Universal Periodic Review on 11 May 2011.

Frank La Rue was appointed as Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression in August 2008 by the UN Human Rights Council. As Special Rapporteur, he is independent from any Government or organization and serves in his individual capacity. The UN first decided to appoint a Special Rapporteur to examine questions relevant to the right to freedom of opinion and expression in 1993. The mandate, since reviewed and extended in 2011, involves reporting annually to the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly on issues related to freedom of opinion and expression.

(*) For the full end-of-mission statement, please see: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/opinion/docs/2011-04-05_Hungary_Freedex_EndMission.doc

The Hungarian media law package:
Law on the Freedom of the Press and the Fundamental Rules on Media Content: http://www.kormany.hu/download/c/b0/10000/act_civ_media_content.pdf
Law on Media Services and Mass Media: http://www.nmhh.hu/dokumentum.php?cid=25694

For further information on the Special Rapporteur’s mandate, please visit: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/opinion/index.htm

OHCHR Country Page – Hungary: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/ENACARegion/Pages/HUIndex.aspx

For press inquiries and additional information regarding the visit, please contact Ms. Momoko Nomura (Mob: +41 79-444-4078 / email: Mnomura@ohchr.org)