UN rights expert raises concern over Hungarian media freedom before elections
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UN rights expert raises concern over Hungarian media freedom before elections

United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression Irene Khan Monday voiced concerns over freedom of media and expression in Hungary after an official visit. Khan attributes freedom of expression issues to overbroad government regulatory authority and financial control over media and lack of journalist access to information, among other sources. The purpose of Khan’s visit was to “examine the situation of freedom of opinion and expression in Hungary in light of international human rights law and standards.”

According to Khan, the Hungarian State accounts for about “one third of the total advertising revenue of the market, of which 75% went to government-aligned private and public media.” Khan found that the state distributes advertising money disproportionately to aid government-friendly media outlets. Khan also learned that many independent media outlets have closed in recent years “due to bankruptcy or an economic take-over by pro-government investors.”

For example, 476 media outlets were consolidated under the Central European Press and Media Foundation (KESMA) in 2018. In a statement, Khan said she did not understand why the merger was necessary and only “ruling party members and supporters” should govern KESMA.

Khan cited concerns that the government uses national campaigns to stigmatize journalists and activists and attack minority groups like migrants, asylum seekers, and LGBTQIA Hungarians. Khan also shared reports from academics that their industry will suffer reduced autonomy as universities transfer from public to private ownership with no public oversite.

Hungarian citizens will vote in a parliamentary election in the spring of 2022. Khan emphasized the importance of an “inclusive” political discourse that is “respectful of human rights.” Khan will assemble an official report covering her visit and present it to the UN Human Rights Council in 2022.