Muiznieks and his delegation gauged media freedom, the fight against intolerance and discrimination, and the rights of asylum seekers during a visit to the country in July, when they held discussions with state authorities, and national and international NGOs. The subsequent report notes law changes to bring Hungary’s media legislation in line with European norms, but raises concern that, in practice, some existing provisions had a chilling effect on journalistic freedom.
“[The] Media Council is not seen as independent from political influence and control,” Muiznieks says. “The Commissioner calls on the authorities to review the appointment procedure for media regulatory bodies.” He expresses concern about increasing threats to media pluralism, seeing measures such as the tax on advertising revenues and restrictions on political advertising as “further attempts to curb media freedom in the country”.
The commissioner’s report on Hungary also puts forward concerns about the deterioration of the situation regarding racism and intolerance in the country, with “anti-Gypsyism” being the most blatant form of intolerance, including violence targeting Roma people and paramilitary marches and patrolling in Roma-populated villages.
Muiznieks urges the Hungarian authorities “to step up efforts to improve Roma access to education by addressing all forms of school segregation of Roma children. The dire housing situation of many Roma living in substandard and segregated settlements and the discriminatory impact on Roma of some measures taken at local level should also be addressed as a matter of priority.”
The report says that despite action by the authorities to condemn anti-Semitic speech, “anti-Semitism is a recurring problem”. Muiznieks refers to “the growing visible presence of extremist organisations in the last years” as one of the most worrying trends in the area of racism and intolerance in Hungary.
He welcomes steps taken to reinforce the legislative framework against hate crimes and hate speech and measures to improve its implementation. At the same time he urges the authorities to address “persisting failures”, including better investigating the possible racial motivation of offences.
While welcoming progress made in the fight against intolerance and discrimination against LGBTI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender/Transexual and Intersexed) persons, he calls on the authorities to take all necessary measures to address discrimination against such persons and fight physical violence against them.
Muiznieks expresses worry at measures taken in the last three years to prohibit rough sleeping and urges the authorities to review the restrictive regulations in light of internationally agreed standards. He remains concerned about the infrequent use made of alternatives to detention, calling on Hungary to ensure that detention of asylum seekers is only a last resort.
Ethnic minorities to receive HUF 2bn more from central budget
The 13 ethnic minorities living in Hungary will receive an extra HUF 2 billion of central budget support totalling HUF 6 billion this year, the national council of Germans in Hungary has said. When parliament approved the 2015 budget bill, the committee of ethnic minorities living in Hungary had for the first time an opportunity to influence the decision, according to a statement by the German council. The 13-member body submitted an amendment proposal in October which highlighted that central budget support for ethnic minorities had not changed for a decade. It asked for institutions operated by the ethnic minority councils to get central funding for the self-financed part of projects carried out from money received through tenders.