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13th Aug 2022

Draft law on spies in media firms prompts outcry in Hungary

  • Spooks in the newsroom: normal practice or latest Fidesz crackdown? (Photo: Peter Siroki)

Hungarian media are demanding the government repeals a draft amendment to the national security law which, they say, would oblige newspapers, TV, radio stations, and online publications to employ covert intelligence officials if required by the authorities.

The amendment, by the minister of interior, lists "content providers" among other institutions, like postal, energy, and strategically important state firms, industrial facilities, and entities doing military-industrial research, to be forced to hire security service officers, who are qualified for the cover post.

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Index.hu, a Hungarian online publication, broke the story, saying that “content providers” is to mean newspapers or TV broadcasters.

The government did not deny the report.

But it says that opposition parties have “misinterpreted and misconstrued" the draft amendment.

"There is no discussion on secret service agents taking a seat in the staff of online newspapers, content providers," the Government Information Center said in a statement on Wednesday (4 November).

It added that the amendment spells out only what is already standard practice "not only in Hungary, but everywhere in the world", which, it claims, is to have covert intelligence staff posted to telecommunications service providers, such as mobile phone firms.

But the Hungarian Publishers’ Association, representing over 40 media companies in Hungary, on Wednesday called on the government to repeal the proposal.

"This legislation would grossly interfere and violate laws on the independence and freedom of businesses codified in the basic law, European Union and other legislation, curbs press freedom and promotes censorship," the association said.

The amendment needs a two-thirds majority in parliament - a level of support the government doesn’t have, as opposition parties, including the far-right Jobbik party, have come out against the idea.

"Recalling the worst Communist times, it [the amendment] wants to place political commissars in editorial [boards]. Their job would probably be to see what kind of information the journalists receive and from where," Adam Mirkoczki, a Jobbik MP on the national security committee, said.

A Socialist MP already submitted another amendment that would carve out this section of the government's proposed text.

The issue will be discussed next week at parliamentary committee level.

The ministry of interior told EUobserver that, at this point, they cannot comment on the substance of the draft.

In an emailed statement, they said amendments will be submitted to the bill in question and be decided upon at next week’s committee meeting.

Hungary's ruling Fidesz party has been repeatedly criticised for curbing media freedom.

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