New Hungarian laws further restrict the media

The Hungarian National Assembly enacted legal regulations in December 2014 that will further restrict the freedom of information regarding domestically funded government support and will terminate certain rules regarding conflicts of interest – Atlatszo.hu reported.

The government submitted the proposals to the National Assembly carefully hidden in a 194-page bill, without giving single word of explanation about the contents.

Up to now, an association, a union or a religious legal entity was not eligible for state funds if it had concluded (or maintained) a co-operation agreement with a political party in the preceding five-year period, or one that has delegated a candidate at the parliamentary elections, the local governmental elections, or the European Parliamentary elections .

According to the new law these organizations are now eligible to apply for government tenders and can benefit from state support – a welcome Christmas present for those non-governmental organizations that have delegated candidates jointly with the ruling party, Fidesz, as well as for those organizations which co-operate with Fidesz within a formal agreement.

So far public officials and their relatives permitted under the law to apply for government contracts, had to declare their involvement publicly.  This included, among others, MP’s, Members of the European Parliament, mayors and local government representatives, as well as leaders of the central state administration bodies, the staff members of the state aid body who do not take part in decision-making, along with their relatives and their companies. The new provisions have abolished this rule, making it impossible to learn if the successful candidate is a person related to the MP of the region or if it is the MP’s company, or even the MP him/herself. Parallel to this, a number of sanctions have also been lifted: up to this date if someone had violated the requirements on conflict of interest or the above mentioned obligation on declaration, the fact of this infringement would be published for a two year-period. But now there are no such rules remain that serve the public interest in the same way.

Another new statutory regulation: “in connection with the management of professional sports associations the requirements of dissemination of data of public interest and data public on grounds of public interest as defined in Act CXII of 2011 on Informational Self-determination and Freedom of Information may be fulfilled by a summarized data content dissemination in the case of non-state and non-local governmental subsidies”.  As the legal regulations provide the possibility for companies to make tax deductions from their company tax by the amount that they donate to sports associations, this governmental bill creates new obstacles for those who would like to know the donated income of those sports associations favored by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

The original article was published on 17 December 2014 in Hungarian.