Disturbances continue near the closed border crossing point at Röszke. Refugees try to break through the fence, while others protest peacefully. The press, of course, is there to report on the events.
The government spokesperson is wrong to assume that "journalists have nothing to do there, and the acting officer has no discretion to distinguish aggressors from the representatives of the media." In fact, journalists not only have the right to be on the spot; it is also their professional duty to report on the situation.
The acting officer, for his part, must be able to distinguish journalists from people attacking him, just like peacefully playing children from someone throwing stones. The law states that "in selecting among coercive means, [an officer] should choose the one that, besides being effective, involves the least restraint, injury or damage for the person(s) concerned by the action."
Hands off the press
The press should not be restricted when covering the news concerning refugees. The police cannot apply coercive means against journalists who are not attacking officers but reporting on the events. Journalists cannot be arrested for doing their job. The police cannot delete photos or video recordings made by journalists because they depict policemen. These unlawful actions also violate the freedom of the press.
Currently, the press has an outstanding role in Hungary, as it is through the press that the broader public can obtain credible information. For the same reason, it is unlawful to prohibit journalists from entering refugee reception centers. The duty of the press is to cover what is going on at such centers, while the public has the right to be informed about the operations and abuses of the authorities.
The general director of the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization (BIN) raised ridiculous arguments in support of the ban when claiming that the BIN ensures the rights of freedom of the press and information because it keeps the press informed about the situation at the reception centers. Suggesting that journalists should be sitting in editorial rooms, waiting for public bodies to provide information on what is going on in the country, is clearly an absurd proposal, as the physical presence of the press at the events is rendered utterly unnecessary.
Beating and arresting journalists and preventing them from doing their job is a severe violation of the freedom of the press. The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union offers free legal aid to journalists in case they have been prevented from performing their duties in any way by the authorities. We ask concerned journalists to send us an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union drafted a short compilation of these cases in order to demonstrate that this is a systematic movement of the Hungarian Government instituting further barriers to independent journalists fulfilling their watchdog role.