The editorial boards of the leading Hungarian opposition—or, as they like to define themselves, ‘independent’—media outlets issued a joint statement on Wednesday condemning the Hungarian government’s new law on the protection of sovereignty. According to the statement, the law does not serve the information security of society, but ‘threatens the free media’ and stifles democratic debate.
But what exactly are these editorial offices objecting to? The draft law ‘On the Protection of National Sovereignty’ was submitted by Fidesz parliamentary group leader Máté Kocsis back in November. According to the explanatory memorandum, Hungary’s sovereignty is increasingly under attack, with foreign organizations and individuals having tried to gain influence in the country for years. Before the 2022 parliamentary election, the opposition campaign was supported with millions of dollars from the United States, channelled to the beneficiaries through NGOs and business ventures to circumvent existing regulations, the bill’s preamble says. The law provides for the establishment of an independent body, the Sovereignty Protection Office, to detect and prevent similar cases.
Under the law passed on 12 December, the Sovereignty Protection Office is an almost fully autonomous state administration entity, which carries out its tasks in complete independence from other bodies. The office is responsible for examining the current state of national sovereignty, drawing up proposals to improve it, and producing an annual report on sovereignty.
The office may initiate independent investigations to uncover advocacy, manipulation and disinformation activities on behalf of other states or organizations and persons, including activities aimed at influencing state and social decision-making processes. The Office must prepare a report on the results of its investigations, which must also be sent to the National Security Committee of the National Assembly. The report cannot be appealed by law. In the event of detection of illegal acts, the office is obliged to inform the competent authorities.
A day after the adoption of the law, the editorial boards of major opposition newspapers published a statement entitled ‘The “Sovereignty Protection Office” is harmful and against the rule of law, yet it cannot intimidate independent media’,
in the introduction of which they admit that the law does not apply to the operation of media companies,
but they still believe that it is capable of ‘restricting press freedom, making it difficult or even impossible for independent (sic!) editorial offices, journalists and media companies to operate’.
The ‘independent’ editorial boards fear that the Sovereignty Protection Office will act arbitrarily to ‘keep at bay and jeopardize the attacked (sic!) individuals and organizations.’ In their view, the investigations themselves are so damaging that they could destroy those investigated.
‘The law makes it clear that in Hungary today, anyone who takes part in democratic debate or even just informs public opinion is a suspect in the eyes of those in power’, they claim. According to the editorial boards, the law does not only attack them, but also their readers and viewers. ‘There are no hidden funds or subsidies’, they plead.
According to the journalists, the creation of the ‘Sovereignty Protection Office’ (consistently referred to in quotation marks) is against the rule of law as well as human rights and democratic principles. They promise that, despite the law, they will not change the way they operate and will continue to work abiding by the rules of the journalistic profession, so that ‘the Hungarian people can find out what is happening in the country and why’.
Among the signatories of the declaration are the editorial offices of the far-left Marxist Partizán, the weekly Magyar Hang and Válasz Online, both established by former pro-government journalists ‘disillusioned’ with Fidesz, as well as that of 444.hu, one of Hungary’s longest-standing leftist gonzo portals, along with scientific-educational website Qubit and ‘fact-checking’ lakmusz.hu, both parts of the 444 universe.