No imprisonment for defamatory or libellous articles in press, Hungarian Parliament votes

May 23. 2023. – 11:44 AM



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On Tuesday, Hungarian Parliament voted in favour of Fidesz's proposal to ease the penalties for defamatory or libellous statements pubished in the press. The proposal was adopted by 129 votes in favour and 57 against.

In the future, defamation and libel will not be punishable if it occurs in a press product during the free discussion of public affairs, as long as the statement does not "obviously and seriously" offend someone's human dignity. The amendment applies only to the press. If someone does the same thing on a blog, Facebook or similar sites, they remain liable to prosecution.

Under the previous Penal Code, a person could be sentenced to up to two years for defamation. If someone made a false audio or video recording capable of damaging someone's honour, they could be sentenced to one year, or up to three years if they published it. In case of slander, the sentence could also be up to one year.

According to the amendment, the only options left to the victim are a press rectification procedure and a personality rights lawsuit.

According to the official explanatory memorandum attached to the amendment,

the Fidesz politicians intend to "decriminalise" the press, because they believe that the free discussion of public affairs is a very important value.

"In the case of expression of opinion on public affairs, recourse to criminal law should only be a last resort, as the victim may obtain both moral and financial redress through a press rectification procedure or a personal lawsuit," the document states.

The amendment in question was not the brainchild of the Fidesz MEPs Máté Kocsis and János Halász, who tabled the proposal, but of the government-affiliated Foundation for Transparent Journalism, with the Fidesz parliamentary group merely agreeing with it. The faction told Telex earlier that "the Foundation for Transparent Journalism approached the faction, indicating that the problem is universal and independent of political sides. After due consideration, we accepted the proposal of the journalists' organisation, as it serves the smooth conduct of journalists' work and protects them".

While few journalists have been convicted of defamation in Hungary, there have been cases where a blogger received a jail sentence. The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (TASZ) says the change will be a good signal towards the Council of Europe and the European Union, which have been calling for the decriminalisation of freedom of expression for years, but it will not in itself improve the conditions for the press in Hungary. We have written in detail about the state of freedom of expression in Hungary here.

Just recently, Momentum MEP Anna Donáth had to send bailiffs to the pro-government TV station TV2, as two and a half months after the final verdict, they still hadn’t published the court-ordered redress. After Donáth’s move, the station finally apologized for falsely claiming in 2019 that she had sexually assaulted an underage girl.

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