Representatives of 19 media organisations were interviewed that regularly deal with, report on, analyse or comment on public affairs, and they carry out all these activities with financial and editorial independence from public authorities. Based on the interviews, HCLU came to the following findings:
- Public information on the coronavirus pandemic has been centralized and restricted. Restrictions are most detrimental to independent media that provide daily news.
- Other sources of information have also been narrowed. Potential information providers are intimidated. Retaliation threatens those who leak information to the independent press.
- The amendment of the legal provisions of scaremongering as a criminal offence affects the majority of journalists.
- Discrediting independent media has been intensified and become organized. There is a regular smear campaign carried out in the public service media against critical voices, in particular against the independent media outlets, which immediately sweeps through the propaganda media machine.
The present interviews with journalists were conducted for two reasons. First, in 2019-2020 HCLU carried out a much larger comprehensive research examining the relationship between independent media and public authorities in Hungary through in-depth interviews with journalists and specific examples, as well as legal cases in its own practice. The research revealed systemic obstruction of the work of the independent media in the form of ignoring press inquiries, open rejection, physical distancing of journalists, discreditation, stigmatization, and finally intimidation of their sources. Last but not least, the research pointed to an element of media freedom and its restrictions that have not received enough attention so far.
Second, the Hungarian Parliament adopted the Coronavirus Act in March 2020, which gave the government unprecedented power. The new law also introduced a vaguely worded new paragraph to the already existing offence of scaremongering in the Criminal Code, which threatens the critical and independent media outlets in Hungary. The results of the present research showed that these fears are well-founded.