Hungarian media denounces measures against ‘outside interference’

Sovereignty protection office established with authority to investigate individuals engaged in public life

A collective warning has been issued by ten independent Hungarian media outlets, stating that a new legislation has the potential to severely limit press freedom. The media organizations, varying from small investigative outlets to popular online news portals, expressed concerns that the recently approved law by the Hungarian parliament could create obstacles or even prevent independent newsrooms, journalists, and media companies from operating.

Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, has alleged that his adversaries are being funded and directed by Western governments and individuals. In recent weeks, the Hungarian government has intensified its domestic communication on the assertion that foreign influences are meddling in Hungarian public affairs, emphasizing the need for stricter regulations to protect the country’s sovereignty.

The new law establishes a sovereignty protection office with extensive powers to investigate individuals active in public life. A spokesperson for the Hungarian government mentioned that the office will operate autonomously, with an independent budget, and will concentrate on analysis, evaluation, and investigation to preserve the constitutional identity by scrutinizing foreign interventions in Hungary’s democratic and decision-making processes.

Celebrating the passage of the law, Orbán wrote on social media, “Hungary belongs to the Hungarians! We will not allow the fate of Hungary to be determined abroad!”

However, Hungarian civil society groups and media organizations argue that the true intention of this legislation is not accountability, but rather to intimidate and silence critics. In a joint statement, the ten media organizations stated that the so-called Sovereignty Protection Authority will be an arbitrarily appointed body with unlimited powers, operating without any oversight. They also emphasized that this office will have the means to threaten and harass targeted individuals and organizations, while also vowing to continue their work.

The media groups further assert that the law does not contribute to the information security of society; instead, it directly undermines it by posing a threat to free media and democratic debates in general.

Prior to the adoption of the law, a substantial number of Hungarian civil society groups raised concerns, arguing that it was unconstitutional and intended to create a chilling effect.

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The NGOs stated, “A country where individuals are intimidated from representing their own interests is not a democracy. When citizens are accused of serving foreign interests merely for voicing their opinions on public matters, there is no freedom.”

The legislation has also raised concerns outside of Hungary. On Wednesday, the International Press Institute condemned the passing of the Sovereignty Protection Act by the Orbán government without proper public consultation and called for the EU to challenge the law.

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