Hungarian journalists say a new law supposedly aimed at fighting the coronavirus will make objective reporting of the pandemic harder and leave them open to facing court cases or even jail time for their reporting.
The measures, in place since Monday, have been roundly criticised for the sweeping powers they hand to the nationalist prime minister, Viktor Orbán, to rule by decree. Another part of the bill provides penalties of up to five years in prison for those spreading misinformation during the pandemic.
Journalists in the country say the new law is already being used to deny them access to information, and on occasion to threaten them.
One Budapest-based journalist, who requested anonymity given the current situation in the country, said she had called a hospital over the weekend to follow up on a tip-off about a group of doctors who had reportedly contracted the coronavirus there. “A few minutes later, the hospital’s chief communication officer called me back and asked if I think it’s a good idea to keep asking about this, a day before the government’s bill will be passed,” she said.
Csaba Lukács, a journalist from the weekly newspaper Magyar Hang, said that since the law was passed at the beginning of the week, there had been a rise in threatening comments on social media or in emails warning staff that they would end up in jail. “We are also afraid we might face more lawsuits, which could put us in a very difficult financial situation,” said the journalist.