The International Press Institute (IPI) has condemned a recent Hungarian government decree, which despite a court order, ensures the continued barring of journalists from independent media from reporting inside hospitals, news site Telex reports.
In a statement, IPI also called on the Fidesz government and its pandemic management agency, the Operative Board, to approve future requests for journalists to access health facilities and stop hindering the media from doing their jobs and reporting on the realities of COVID-19.
“We stand with independent journalists in Hungary in their demand for access to information, which is a fundamental right. It’s shocking that this is still up for debate in an EU member state,” said IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen.
“There is no other country in the EU which has such restrictive hospital reporting policies in place as Hungary,” Griffen stressed.
Last spring, 28 independent Hungarian media outlets sent an open letter to the government. In the letter, they asked government officials not only to begin providing more detailed information about the coronavirus pandemic, but to allow independent journalists into hospitals. The request, however, was rejected by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who said that such a move could lead to the spread of “fake news.” Since the start of the pandemic, the government-controlled public television and the state news agency have been the only media permitted to film inside hospitals. But these reports have been repeatedly criticized for being inaccurate, and often propagandistic. In addition, hospital directors have been denied the right to make statements.
This led government-critical news site Telex to launch legal action against the government on the basis of a decision by the Ministry of Human Resources (EMMI), they barred the news outlet from reporting on the conditions in Hungarian hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Metropolitan first degree court initially sided with the government last year. But following an appeal, at the end of January, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Telex and deciding that EMMI could not hinder media from reporting from within hospitals, as that power to decide lay with individual hospital directors.
However, just days later, the government passed a decree which bypassed the Supreme Court’s ruling. It instead determined that only the Operative Board could decide on press access and accreditation. This way the government’s organization has now full responsibilities for deciding on which journalists and TV crews can film or record interviews on the premises of health facilities, and can also overrule hospital directors who would otherwise be willing to give permission to journalists.
Featured photo illustration by Attila Balázs/MTI