Hungary Censoring Information on COVID-19, Report Says
The Hungarian government has centralized communications about the pandemic and is filtering the release of information about COVID-19, a new report claims.
It says alternative sources of information, especially healthcare workers, are afraid of being fired if they talk to the press, and that the new "Coronavirus bill" will lead to more self-censorship among journalists.
These are the main conclusions of a report compiled by the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, HCLU.
It surveyed editors and journalists of 19 independent media outlets on their experiences of how the government and other state institutions handled information about the COVID-19 outbreak in the first month of the crisis.
The main body handling the pandemic in Hungary is the so-called Operational Group, OG, it notes, which holds a daily press conference.
Hospitals, ministries, professional organizations and other state institutions are not allowed to talk to the press about the pandemic, and all questions related to it must be submitted to this body.
Moreover, only a few weeks after the outbreak started, the OG moved its press conferences online, so that journalists can now only email questions, making it impossible to re-submit unanswered questions.
Also, questions chosen for answering are highly selected, certain outlets are neglected and many sensitive questions remain unanswered, according to the report.
While local municipalities have become more open to the press about the outbreak, mayors also suffer from a lack of information, the report says.
According to the surveyed journalists, alternative sources of information have become scarce. "Even if anonymity is guaranteed, nobody dares to speak to journalists, as they are afraid of...