Media freedoms are at risk in Hungary.
Thats the message coming from the Council of Europe after the publication of a new report raising significant human rights concerns.
Press freedoms in the country have been in the spotlight ever since Budapest passed a raft of legislation in 2010 that critics lambasted as attempts to curb free speech.
The Hungarian government did initially respond to EU pressure agreeing to make some amendments to the controversial laws. But a new advertisement tax has again stirred condemnation.
The report has also criticised how the government has dealt with asylum seekers and refugees.
euronews spoke to Nils Muižnieks, the Human Rights Commissioner for the Council of Europe, who played a crucial part in compiling the report.
euronews: “Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, Nils Muižnieks, welcome to Euronews. You visited Hungary in July. Do you think that the people have a chance to get free and fair information from the media?”
Nils Muižnieks: “I think first of all, the legislation foresees very severe sanctions against journalists for various violations and I think that these should be repelled. Because they have a chilling effect on media freedom and people’s willingness to express themselves. Second, defamation should be decriminalised and the fine should be strictly proportionate. Also we have some advertising provisions which seem to target one media outlet, because it’s only one media outlet, one television that’s affected by it.”
euronews: “Are the journalists there able to work without political pressure?”
Nils Muižnieks: “Well, I heard a number of reports about pressure. About editors being released after writing critical reports on the ruling party. About defamation cases being launched against many investigative journalist. So there are pressures, I think it’s incumbant upon the Hungarian government to promote media pluralism and to address these concerns in a serious manner.
euronews: “Do you think that the so called advertisement tax is simply a financial issue or it’s a political one?”
Nils Muižnieks: “Well I think it becomes a political issue in this broader context of this amended media legislation and concerns of media pluralism. And when it really affects one media outlet much more than others, or affects solely one media outlet, than many questions arise, whether it was designed particularly to target this one media outlet.”
euronews: “The Hungarian government is condemning racist and antisemitic speech, but do you think that this is enough to discrimination and extremism?”
Nils Muižnieks: “I am quite concerned about the presence in the Hungarian parliament of a far-right party, Jobbik, which expresses frequently antisemitic or anti-gypsy sentiments. But also the cooperation of this party with paramilitary groups in society, which have engaged in very many intimidating actions against Roma and other groups.
euronews: “How do you see the situation of refugees and asylum-seekers in Hungary?”
Nils Muižnieks: “The most problematic policy in my view is the very frequent resort to the detention of asylum seekers. It seems to be arbitrary. It’s not clear to me why certain people are detained and others are not. And very limited use of alternative forms of detention. I think Hungary needs to develop much more longterm policies of integration. Otherwise migrants will stop, might be detained, seek asylum but than move on to other countries. Because they don’t see the opportunity to integrate into the Hungarian society.”