Data-protection-based (GDPR) SLAPP cases in Hungary - HCLU’s report is now available

The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU, in Hungarian: TASZ) has been addressing data protection (GDPR) -based SLAPP issues for several years. GDPR based SLAPP cases are legal proceedings, where influential individuals try to stifle journalism with the misuse of data protection. We represent numerous affected editorial offices and actively participate in the dialogue on the anti-SLAPP directive at the European level. It is our primary aim to learn as much as possible about this new phenomenon, and to use this knowledge to facilitate meaningful dialogue between the relevant stakeholders.

To this end, we conducted a research in the Summer and Autumn of 2023, and made interviews with journalists on how they themselves perceive the phenomenon. Around one third of the 34 media outlets that we reached out to have already experienced GDPR based SLAPP. These journalists could provide their first hand experience of being ‘SLAPPed’ by GDPR.

Concluding the research a report was written that was presented at a roundtable meeting in December. At the meeting journalists and other guests shared their experiences partly on GDPR based lawsuits, and partly on more general challenges the press faces nowadays in Hungary, like fake-news, or the concentration of the media market. The GDPR related conclusions of the roundtable was added to the report’s final version.

The report’s main conclusions are the following:

  • The GDPR based proceedings are a new tool of censorship. As a result of these procedures, such administrative burden is put on the press that renders journalism in many cases impossible.

  • The problem in the legal sense is caused by the lawmaker not adopting special rules harmonizing the EU level regulation of data protection and the constitutional functions of the press. The data protection authority’s (NAIH) case law completely ignores the freedom-of-the-press-aspect, and, unfortunately, the courts decide in this line in several cases.

  • The GDPR-based cases are on the increase as experienced by the asked journalists. In many cases individuals with close ties to the government use this tool in order to prevent the press from publishing on their enrichment.

  • These proceedings require enormous resources and thus detract resources from actual journalism. The most exposed type is data-intensive, investigative journalism. It has already happened that journalists exercised self-censorship and the do not even publish materials that are deemed risky.

  • Although applying data protection to the press not unconstitutional per se, the case law in Hungary is essentially contrary to the basic logic of journalism.

  • In sum, GDPR based lawsuits have exerted significant effect, and are capable of further eroding meaningful dialogue in public matters.

We were pleased to see that after closing the report, there has been a court decision that considered the freedom-of-the-press aspect of the case. In January, 2024, Forbes Hungary, with the help of HCLU, won a case initiated by László Bige, one of the wealthiest Hungarians. The case shows that there might be adequate legal answers to the problem, even if the lawmaker remains idle.

Download the report here

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