By Dori Átol, campaign coordinator of Amnesty International Hungary
Despite freezing conditions around 6-8,000 people gathered in front of the Parliament building in Budapest on 27 January to protest against the media law that came into effect in Hungary on 1 January this year.
Additionally there were close to 9,000 people who were following the event live on-line. This might not seem to be a large number, however, having a 15, 000 crowd is very significant in a country where the culture of civil activism is yet at its beginning stages.
This was already the second round of street protests regarding the media law. The first took place two weeks earlier, on 14 January. Since the government has not taken any measures yet to amend the laws, Amnesty International Hungary decided to be part of the second demonstration as well as one of the organizers.
Amnesty International raised concerns, because the breadth of the restrictions contained in the new legislation on media content, the lack of clear guidelines for journalists and editors, and the strong powers of the new regulatory body all risk placing unnecessary and disproportionate restrictions to freedom of expression in Hungary which go beyond legitimate restrictions on freedom of expression under international human rights law.
A diverse group of musicians, including a pop singer, a rapper, an alternative rock group and a Roma band entertained the crowd, and speeches were delivered by the head of the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, a well-known media expert, and Orsolya Jeney, the director of Amnesty International Hungary.
Amnesty International Hungary’s director said on stage that “as a result of the law, media can go mute not only in protest of the law, but also out of fear. It could induce self-censorship. Silence could fall upon valuable sources that provide insightful, extensive and thorough information.”
Referring to international and European human rights standards (ICCPR, ECHR, the EU’s FRC) Amnesty International has called upon Hungary to respect its obligations to protect the freedom of expression, including the right to seek, impart and hold opinion and information freely, without the interference of any authorities.
Immediately following the demonstration, the Washington Times reported that the representative of the United States to the OSCE expressed his government’s concern over the Hungarian media law.
Concurrently with the demonstration in Budapest, Amnesty International sections from around the world sent letters to Hungarian embassies to convey our concerns about the media laws.
Amnesty International has launched a web-action for people who share the organization’s concern to write a letter to the Hungarian Prime Minister, asking him to amend the laws so that they are brought in line with international human rights standards.
At the rally a next round of demonstrations was announced for 15 March, a national holiday in Hungary commemorating the events of 1848-49, when Hungarian revolutionaries championed, amongst others, the freedom of press.
Amnesty International Hungary will take part in the upcoming demonstration if by then no measures have been taken by the government to amend the laws in line with the right to freedom of expression.