Hungarian Media Criticizes Crackdown on 'Foreign Interventions'

 Photograph: Bernadett Szabó/Reuters

   Ten independent Hungarian media outlets issued a collective warning on Wednesday, expressing concerns that a new law passed by the Hungarian parliament could severely limit press freedom. The media organizations, ranging from investigative outlets to popular online news portals, stated that the law approved on Tuesday might create significant obstacles, potentially making it "difficult or even impossible for independent newsrooms, journalists, and media companies to operate."

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has contended that Western governments and individuals are providing funding and guidance to his political opponents. In recent weeks, the Hungarian government has intensified its narrative, asserting that foreign forces are interfering in Hungarian public life and arguing that stricter rules are necessary to safeguard the country's sovereignty. The media's warning underscores growing concerns about the impact of these legal changes on press freedom and independent journalism in Hungary.

The recently approved law in Hungary establishes a sovereignty protection office endowed with extensive powers to investigate individuals involved in public life. The Hungarian government claims that this office will operate autonomously with an independent budget, focusing on analyzing, evaluating, and investigating to safeguard constitutional identity by scrutinizing foreign interventions in Hungary's democratic and decision-making processes.

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán celebrated the passage of the law, asserting on social media, "Hungary belongs to the Hungarians! We won’t let Hungary’s future be decided abroad!"

However, Hungarian civil society groups and media organizations argue that the legislation's actual purpose is not accountability but rather to intimidate and silence critics. The 10 media organizations issued a statement, expressing concern that the Sovereignty Protection Authority, created by the law, will be an arbitrarily appointed body with unlimited powers, operating without oversight. They believe it will have the means to threaten and harass targeted individuals and organizations.

These media groups vow to continue their work despite the law, asserting that it does not serve the information security of society. Instead, they claim it is intended to undermine free media and democratic debate. Before the law's adoption, a coalition of Hungarian civil society groups raised constitutional concerns, contending that the legislation was designed to have a chilling effect on public discourse. The passage of this law has sparked significant controversy and raised alarms about potential threats to democratic principles in Hungary.

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have voiced concerns, stating, "A country where people are intimidated from representing their own interests is not a democracy. Where citizens are accused of serving foreign interests if they speak their minds on public affairs, there is no freedom." They emphasize that such intimidation and accusations undermine the principles of democracy.

The impact of the law has not been confined to Hungary alone. The International Press Institute, on Wednesday, expressed condemnation of the passing of the Sovereignty Protection Act by the Orbán government. They highlighted the absence of proper public consultation and called for the European Union to challenge the law. The international response underscores the broader implications of the legislation and the potential threats it poses to democratic values, not only within Hungary but also in the broader European context.