Despite several calls at the peak of the pandemic, the Orbán government chose to reject the requests made by over 28 media outlets in March of last year to allow independent journalists into Hungary’s hospitals.Continue reading
Just as a court ruled that the government unlawfully banned independent press outlets from entering hospitals during the raging pandemic, the Orbán administration issued a decree to change the legal situation and gain control over the issue. Instead of the hospital leaders, it is now up to the Operative Board to make this decision. According to an opposition MEP, the move precisely shows that Hungary is not under the rule of law.
As we previously reported, at the peak of the pandemic several contradictory reports were being published in the media, while the government has regularly come under criticism for withholding information. Even the Hungarian Medical Chamber (MOK) and the Hungarian Doctor’s Union (MOSZ) were pushing for the independent media’s presence; the government, namely the Ministry of Human Resources (EMMI), still chose to reject their requests.
Government-critical Telex challenged the decision, and after a long legal battle, on January 27, a Budapest court ruled in favor of the independent news site, establishing that the ministry should not have decided on the ban, as only individual hospital directors have the authority in that matter.
In the aftermath, even the PMO chief of staff commented on the decision at his regular press briefing on Thursday, saying that “court decisions must be respected.”
The government, however, apparently wouldn’t put up with the ruling and the principle. In response, a decree issued on Friday night, has ordered the Operative Board (consisting of officials either appointed by the government or belonging to the government) to be in charge. The board, therefore, may determine both the healthcare institutions’ program for maintaining contact with the press, and the press’s access to the institutions.
Accordingly, healthcare institution leaders will have no choice but to implement the board’s relevant decisions.
In reaction, an MEP of centrist liberal Momentum ironically referred to Justice Minister Judit Varga, who is “constantly accusing the EU of failing to define the rule of law,” and is saying that “Hungary is under attack on ideological grounds.” Anna Donáth then argued:
But if, for example, a court says that a ministry cannot ban media from hospitals, and then the next day the court decision is overturned by a government decree – well, that shows exactly why Hungary is not a state based on the rule of law.”
featured image illustration via Zoltán Balogh/MTI