Proposed constitution is serious threat to right to information

In yet another assault on freedom of expression and information, the Hungarian government adopted a new Constitution on Monday 18 April which will abolish independent oversight of the public’s right to know.

Access Info Europe, n-ost Network for Reporting on Eastern Europe, the South East Network for Professionalization of the Media, and the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (TASZ), raised  concerns about the new Constitution. The new constitutional rule to replace the independent Data Protection and Freedom of Information Commissioner with an administrative authority will seriously weaken the right to access to information in Hungary, which in 1992 was the first country in central and eastern Europe to adopt an access law.
There is lack of clarity about the proposed new data protection and access to information authority as its powers will have to be established under a new fundamental act of parliament (Article VI paragraph 3) and no one has to date seen any draft text of that law. It is unlikely that the body will have the same powers or independence as the Commissioner enjoyed to date.
Other serious changes to the Constitution include limiting the independence of the judiciary and removing the right of citizens to turn to the Constitutional Court with individual appeals.
The Hungarian government must not adopt this amendment as it will severely damage freedom of expression in a country that was once a European leader in the public’s right to know,” said Andreas Bock, editor at the media organisation n-ost.
The attack on the right to information is the latest in a series of regressive moves including the much-criticised reform of the media law and proposals to disburse the historical secret services archives.
The Hungarian Data Protection and Information Officer has been key to promoting and protecting the right in Hungary and has been a model for the region,” added Helen Darbishire, Executive Director of Access Info Europe. “This move is a way to bring an immediate end to the independence of the existing information commissioner and replace him with a more subservient authority.”
The Parliamentary Commissionaire is responsible solely for the Parliament.  According to the new Constitution, this independent status will be replaced by an administrative agency which will not enjoy such independence. As a consequence, the new office will not be able to confront the administration in major freedom of information cases, which leads to less transparent and more corrupt state.” – noted Tivadar Hüttl from Hungarian Civil Liberties Union.

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