The Budapest-Capital Regional Court established that the Ministry of Human Resources’ (EMMI) decision to ban independent press from entering hospitals during the raging pandemic was unlawful, as only hospital directors have that authority, following independent news portal Telex‘s challenge.
Despite several calls and contradictory reports at the peak of the pandemic, the Orbán government, namely the Ministry of Human Resources, chose to reject the requests made by over 28 media outlets in March of last year to allow independent journalists into Hungary’s hospitals.
As a matter of fact, only the state media and state news agency, both repeatedly criticized for their extensive pro-Fidesz stance, were allowed to report from inside the healthcare institutions. Meanwhile, even the Hungarian Medical Chamber (MOK) and the Hungarian Doctor’s Union (MOSZ) have voiced the need for an independent media presence.
Long legal battle
Telex challenged the decision in court, which now ruled that it is under the hospital directors’ authority to allow or decline these requests.
A long and complex legal process has actually led up to this latest ruling, made during the fifth wave of the pandemic. Back after Telex‘s challenge, EMMI was originally seeking to have Telex‘s allegations dismissed without any discussion. The ministry argued that it should be the hospital directors who decide on the requests of the press, not them, and according to their interpretation, only individual institutions could be sued. This argument was accepted by the Budapest-Capital Regional Court in June last year, therefore Telex made an appeal.
Subsequently, the Supreme Court (Kúria) ruled that EMMI’s information failed to indicate that it had no jurisdiction to act on Telex‘s request, failed to direct them to the hospital directors, and their reply contained a clear decision instead. The Kúria, therefore, overturned the ministry’s decision, ordering the Court to discuss the case and make a judgement.
In its ruling made on January 27th, the Court annulled the ministry’s decision and ruled that this was something for the hospital director to decide.
TASZ: Significant step forward
Commenting on the case, Emese Pásztor, acting director of the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union’s (TASZ) Political Freedoms Project, pointed out that although this latest favorable ruling doesn’t mean that reporters would be allowed in automatically from now on, it definitely represents a significant step forward.
“I truly hope that hereafter there will be institution heads who will let the press in. Because this would not only not hinder, but rather catalyze the fight against the epidemic. If we can see that there is a big problem, we can believe it,” Pásztor argued.
featured image illustration via MTI/Károly Árvai/kormany.hu