On 25 September 2020, the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) wrote to the EU countries’ Ministries of Foreign Affairs to express our deep concern about a letter sent by the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade to Hungarian embassies in EU member states, instructing them to monitor the activities of Hungarian journalists in their host countries and share all information relating to work trips, training courses or study visits with the Hungarian Government.
Freedom of expression
We believe this request interferes with the ability of Hungarian journalists and media workers to work free from intimidation or undue state surveillance, while also threatening to turn other EU Member States into the next stage for the Hungarian Government’s attacks on media freedom that have so damaged the rule of law in the country itself. Accordingly, we urged the other EU countries to interpellate the Hungarian ambassador, in order to ensure Hungarian journalists and media workers in their country were afforded all rights and protections and to refer back to the Hungarian Government any attempts to expand surveillance and intimidation of journalists on foreign soil.
We regret that to date, we have received no response to our letter or seen any public condemnation of the Hungarian government’s request by the other EU Member States.
Here the letter sent on 25 September 2020.
We are contacting you today as part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), which tracks, monitors and responds to media freedom violations in EU Member States and Candidate Countries. We are deeply concerned about a letter sent by the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade to Hungarian embassies in EU member states, instructing them to monitor the activities of Hungarian journalists in their host countries and share all information relating to work trips, training courses or study visits with the Hungarian Government. The letter reportedly sent out on directions of the cabinet of Tamás Menczer, Minister of State for Communication and Hungary’s International Image at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade is dated 2 June 2020 and provided a deadline for responses of 1 pm the next day.
We believe this request interferes with media freedom and undermines Hungary’s commitment to international standards. Any attempt to surveil, monitor or intimidate journalists threatens to unduly pressure them, interfere with their professional activities and dissuade them from carrying out their work. Other EU Member States must not be allowed to become the next stage for the Hungarian Government’s attacks on media freedom that have so damaged the rule of law in Hungary itself. Accordingly, we urge you to interpellate the Hungarian ambassador to your country regarding this request, in order to ensure Hungarian journalists and media workers are afforded all rights and protections as outlined in your country’s laws, including those protecting press freedom. All attempts to expand surveillance and intimidation of journalists on foreign soil must be referred back to the Hungarian Government to ensure they are discontinued as soon as possible.
Moreover, the damaging effect of the surveillance request was exacerbated by the Ministry’s justification for the letter, which employed anti-Semitic tropes, while delegitimising journalists. In response to questions from journalists at Telex.hu, demanding a justification for the monitoring, the Ministry stated: “The MFA – due to its function – does everything necessary to avoid foreign influence in Hungarian internal matters, and in our experience, the Soros-network is usually behind such attacks.” Associating the work of independent journalists with George Soros is standard anti-Semitic propaganda of the Orban Government used to discredit critical journalism and should be robustly challenged by Hungary’s European partners.
We have previously and repeatedly expressed our profound concerns over the continued deterioration of media freedom in Hungary. In December 2019, a joint mission to the country that included several of the MFRR partners found that since 2010, the Hungarian government has systematically dismantled media independence, freedom and pluralism, distorted the media market and divided the journalistic community in the country. Among other things, mission partners urged the Member States of the European Union to condemn all attacks on journalists in Hungary, including pervasive anti-media rhetoric. Since the beginning of the MFRR in March 2020, we have recorded six Mapping Media Freedom alerts related to Hungary, including the decision to refuse a license extension for Klubrádió; the sacking of Index.hu’s Editor-in-Chief, Szabolcs Dull and the unchecked expansion of Government-backed KESMA, which now oversees 470 media outlets. In light of this degradation of media freedom, pluralism and transparency, we additionally also ask you to condemn this attack on Hungary’s media freedom.
European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
Free Press Unlimited
International Press Institute (IPI)
Osservatorio Balcani Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT)