CSOs in Hungary win lawsuits against smear campaigns

Association

In a positive development, in May 2019 the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU) and the Hungarian Helsinki Committee (HHC) won a lawsuit against Figyelo, a weekly pro-government magazine, for publishing the “Soros-list” in April 2018 which depicted activists, human rights defenders and critical media workers as “Soros-mercenaries”.

The court of first instance found that the content of the article was unlawful and stated that the plaintiffs suffered harm to their reputation as they were listed as executors of Soros's will, especially given that "mercenary" has a clearly negative meaning. The court rejected the argument of Figyelő that the article falls within the scope of freedom of expression. Furthermore, Figyelő was ordered to publish the court decision and its justification, and was banned from publishing similar content. The magazine also needs to pay damages and bear the legal costs of the lawsuit. However, this ruling is not final.

In May 2019, HCLU reported that, together with the CSO Power of Humanity Foundation, it won a similar case against the municipality of the city of Pecs. The court concluded that the municipality had violated the reputation of the Power of Humanity Foundation and ordered the municipality to pay damages to the Foundation. The Foundation was depicted as a pro-migration organisation trying to influence the outcome of the Hungarian elections to reach their aims of getting more migrants into the country. However, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union highlighted some flaws in the court decision as it says it "almost completely ignores the social and political context of the case and the fact that public authorities practically attacked a non-governmental organisation by spreading lies". The CSOs also criticised the court for failing to hold to account the local authorities responsible for the infringement and that the judgement fails in preventing the defendants from future infringement.

As previously reported on the CIVICUS Monitor, the Hungarian civil society sector has been continuously harassed by the government and pro-government media in recent years. 

Expression

On 4 June 2019, Hungarian public television refused to broadcast the latest video clip of the band Besh o DroM, which portrays oligarchs playing with the population as with pawns. The video clip shows the main characters realising that they live on a Monopoly board, and politics and oligarchs play with their lives as a board game. "They are all too ugly, they are all pigs / they should be in the Parliament" - the lyrics go.

Despite a promise to broadcast the clip in its "Kult 30 show" the public television station M5 retracted at the last moment. The public television rejects accusations of censorship and as an excuse says that the clip is vulgar and obscene, and that the editorial practice of the cultural channel is that "only works that do not offend other people's sensibilities may be displayed".