Following that the court first turned away a Christian Democrat (KDNP) MP’s complaint about a caricature that mocks the Coronavirus Operative Board’s press conference while depicting Jesus on the Cross, the second instance ruling found its publisher, left-wing daily Népszava, guilty. A media-focused outlet says the ruling may impose a serious limitation on the future publication of cartoons.
The cartoon, titled “Chronic,” depicts Chief Medical Officer Cecília Müller commenting on a Jesus on the cross figure, saying: “…His underlying condition caused addiction.” The cartoon background story is that the Chief Medical Officer- a devout Christian, who has always worn a golden crucifix on a necklace, has often been criticized by opposition politicians and journalists for giving out incomplete information, not revealing important details, and for allegedly playing according to the government’s interests. Cecília Müller and the operative board repeatedly mention that those who have died from the coronavirus were in serious condition due to other chronic illnesses or advanced age, so they would have died anyway with or without the infection. Meanwhile, many personal stories and hospital data have proven this to be incorrect. Many opposition politicians and journalists have also found other contradictions, like the government’s ideology, which is Christian Democrat, but they seemingly did not find it manifesting during the pandemic.
The cartoon, however, soon drew controversy and the ruling forces condemned it, saying it was “blasphemy.” This eventually led to KDNP’s deputy group leader’s private lawsuit. Imre Vejkey argued that he “felt like a second-class citizen as a Christian.”
In reaction to the verbal assaults, cartoonist Gábor Pápai interpreted the cartoon as a criticism targeted at Müller. He explained “…that since no worker in the governmental press (an oxymoron!) dared to stay away from lynching me, I owe you an explanation.” He then declared that “the drawing shows Cecília Müller, a public figure, and a crucifix (so it’s not the living Jesus, but a statue of him). The drawing has ONE speaker, the Chief Medical Officer, who, similarly to all [coronavirus-related] deaths to date, traces Jesus’ back to some underlying disease (…) So the drawing doesn’t say anything about Jesus (and he doesn’t say or do anything) that would be embarrassing, humiliating for Him or His followers that could be considered blasphemous. The drawing only criticizes Cecília Müller.”
Back in January, the Budapest metropolitan court turned down the KDNP politician’s complaint, arguing that it “was not aimed against Christian religion, it did not ridicule the Christian community, and did not prevent Christians from freely practicing their religion… it does not justify restricting the freedom of expression and the press.”
At second instance, however, the Court found Népszava at fault, reasoning that the caricature and its wording infringed the applicant’s right to human dignity in association with his membership of the Christian religious community. As a consequence, Népszava has been ordered to pay HUF 400,000 (EUR 1,140) to the KDNP politician, in addition to reimbursing the litigation costs.
According to news portal Media1’s statement, the ruling imposes a serious limit to the future publication of caricatures and political cartoons.
In response to Telex, Népszava said it would make its stance and position public on the potential continuation of the case in the coming days.
Featured photo by Gergely Botár/kormany.hu