Further restrictions on freedom of information in illiberal Hungary

The Hungarian government has been dissatisfied with the current provisions of the Freedom of Information Act. Already in 2013 the government tried to limit ordinary citizens’ access to public information, but that attempt failed since it was obviously unconstitutional. Now, two years later, the Ministry of Justice has come up with a new scheme.

Up until now, a person requesting data of public interest had to pay only photocopying fees. In practice, that meant that a few days after the request was submitted the appropriate government office informed the applicant of the approximate copying charge and asked whether he was still interested in pursuing the matter. But now, if parliament passes a series of amendments Justice Minister László Trócsányi submitted, the interested citizen will have to pay the complete cost of the release of the documents. What is included in the “complete cost” is not spelled out. Certainly not merely copying costs. As 444.hu semi-jokingly said: “Who knows? It might also include the price of electricity.” Moreover, there is no provision to tell the information seeker ahead of time about the possible cost. It may happen that the bill is millions of forints, which NGOs or investigative journalists are not prepared to pay. This amendment itself might be unconstitutional, since the constitution states that “assurance of freedom of information is the duty of all government organs.”

But that’s not all. Another amendment distinguishes between ordinary government documents and copyrighted documents. The latter cannot be copied and given out to seekers of information; they can only be shown to the interested person. On the surface, this practice seems defensible–until we take a look at a specific case. I’m thinking of the billions the government spent on studies prepared by the associates of the pro-government think tank Századvég. Initially the prime minister’s office that ordered the studies refused to release them, appealing to copyright laws. The newspaperman pursued the case, went to court, and won. If the amendment is passed, the government will put a stop to this practice.

The amendment would also modify laws governing data that are still being considered by the government in such a way that any data that might be the basis for future decisions couldn’t be released. For all intents and purposes, all data would be under government protection.

In addition, there is a fudge-factor sentence that allows the government to prevent the public from accessing material that it doesn’t want to be revealed. “If so much extra work is required of the employees that they are prevented from taking care of their major duties, the request might not be fulfilled completely.”

For some reason the government wants these amendments to become law as soon as possible. Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjén, who originally asked László Kövér to make sure that parliament would be prepared to vote on the amendments in October, wrote a new letter in which he asked for immediate discussion of Trócsányi’s proposals. Naturally, Kövér readily agreed. Parliament will most likely vote on the amendments on Monday.

Being able to ask the government how it spends taxpayer money is an important instrument of democracy. For example, people have the right to know how much the government spends on anti-refugee billboards or how much János Lázár’s trips abroad cost. Given the Fidesz government’s track record, it’s no wonder that Viktor Orbán, his oligarchs, and corrupt government officials are greatly bothered by the uncomfortable questions posed by NGOs or investigative journalists. HVGs take on the issue is that the Trócsányi amendments serve to cover up widespread fraud and corruption.

piggy bank2

Four anti-corruption organizations–Transparency International Magyarország, K-Monitor, Átlátszó.hu, and Energiaklub–are trying to stop the proposed changes in the law. They jointly wrote to László Trócsányi, to the Authority of National Data Protection and Freedom of Information, and to members of parliament to protest the move. Attila Péterfalvi, president of the Authority of National Data Protection, originally found nothing wrong with the proposed amendments, claiming that eventually the practice of obtaining data would be satisfactorily solved. A few days later, however, he changed his mind and released a statement in which he emphasized that “acquiring data of public interest is a constitutional right, the great achievement of the regime change, the guarantee of democratic rule of law, and the control of public spending.” It is hard to know at the moment what Péterfalvi’s next move will be.

Transparency International released a statement in which they called the law vague and one that severely restricts access to information. They also pointed out that the newly amended law will “create a serious risk that corruption by public officials will go unchecked.” Transparency International believes that government offices cannot charge more than a nominal fee when people would like to find out how their taxes are being spent. Anna Koch, director of Europe and Central Asia at Transparency International, fears that “the government is quickly pushing Hungary toward full state control of public information.” The vote will be tomorrow, and I have no doubt that it will pass.

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w36
Guest

Kingdom of Fear!

How many more years of the gulash fascism will ruin the hopes of the few remaining honest decent citizens?

Guest

Am I the only one who simply doesn’t understand how the EU can stand by and watch a member state sink into a complete dictatorship?

By sending EU money to Hungary, it is boosting the private fortunes of the PM and his gang of thieves, rather than helping Hungary become a democracy.

souflaki
Guest
You believed the hype. But it’s 2015 so I guess it’s time to wake up. Just like there’s no “state” when we talk about public finances only taxpayers’ money (in the US everybody is consistent and using that latter term while in Hungary it’s always the “state pays this amount”, “it costs the state that much” as if there would be somebody else who would have money other than the payers of taxes) there is no such thing as “the EU”. It’s an illusion. It’s the member states who set up a free-trade zone and that’s all the EU is (plus admittedly some thousand smart bureaucrats who think they are so important). Why would a free trade zone care about anything at all when the goal is simply for Germany etc. to export more shit into Hungary or Bulgaria? Sure the Germans etc. also pay for the losses and transformation CEE experiences via subsidies but it’s purely business. At least the net payers can say that they are innocent, what more could they possibly do besides paying untold billions year after year. Orban can and will do anything he wants. He knows that and EU politicians also know that. Deal… Read more »
Guest

It would take more for the EU to react, that’s true – but:
Remember Haider?

A bit OT:
Mötley Crüe will do a farewell tour in Europe this November …
http://www.motley.com/

Random
Guest

OT: Good article about Arthur Finkelstein, one of the most important advisors of Orban’s.

What Finkelstein says is nothing new for anyone who has ever read at least one American book about political campaigning, but underscores the utter inability of liberals and leftists ever to win in Hungary again (of course that the election system is completely rigged against them doesn’t help either, but that’s not an issue anybody cares about really).

The lefties realized that they have no other role left to play in Hungary than that of the pseudo-opposition, which receives some pocket money from time to time, crumbles from the table of the big guys. But that’s OK with them.

http://444.hu/2015/07/06/mondj-valami-igazat-hogy-elhigyjek-ha-kamuzol-igy-dolgozik-orban-amerikai-fotanacsadoja/

tappanch
Guest

Finkelstein in his own words:

(from 8:10)

bimbi
Guest

What a sad post this is. Yet another “Nacht und Nebel” change in the law is pushed through by Zsolt Szemjen of KDNP (that is supposed to stand for Christian Democratic People’s Party) – the man who started his career by plagiarizing his doctoral thesis – at the peak of the holiday season, and why?

In order further to enforce the government’s policy of Control, Control, Control and to push down the throats of the naïve Hungarian people that This Government Always Knows Best and that in any case the government holds the Hungarian public in contempt.

What have the government and Zsolt Szemjen got to hide? Well, we know about tax fraud, the uncompetitive bidding system, the massive enrichment of government politicians but if it can be covered up, it will be with this anti-democratic, repressive legislation.

Shame on all of you yet again, KDNP and Fidesz!

szelf
Guest

Why would young Istvan Tiborcz (husband of Orban’s first born child Ráchel) be having a coffee at Hotel Kempinski (the venue of choice for well-connected, corrupt fideszniks such as Antal Rogán) with Andy Vajna the billionaire movie producer who received various goodies lately (monopoly to operate casinos online etc.)?

Tiborcz (ie. Orban’s front) was lately robbing Hungarian taxpayers blind via public lighting projects apparently wants to broaden the family’s portfolio.

http://444.hu/2015/07/06/andy-vajna-epp-tiborcz-istvannak-kavezott-mikozben-az-olebe-pottyant-az-online-kaszinopiac/

tappanch
Guest

Today’s votes in the rubberstamp Parliament:

Lawyer and loyal fideszoso Papcsak became the chairman of the board of the Hungarian National Bank. Board composition: 3 Fidesz , 1 Jobbik, 0 democratic opposition.

http://www.parlament.hu/irom40/05501/05501.pdf

Our topic today:
The Fidesz-Orban regime just abolished the freedom of information,

http://www.parlament.hu/irom40/05404/05404.pdf

Other votes: the destruction of Dagaly bath to erect buildings for the 2017 swimming world cup.

http://www.parlament.hu/irom40/05419/05419.pdf

The day is not over, but the Fidesz zombies voted for 20+ bills in my account, including the border fence.

http://index.hu/belfold/2015/07/06/parlament_szavazas_infoszabadsag_menekultek_kerites/

tappanch
Guest

Ex Schwarze Vajna (and one more fideszoso) received the exclusive right to operate online casinos, in return for probably ZERO forints to the public budget.

http://444.hu/2015/07/06/andy-vajna-epp-tiborcz-istvannak-kavezott-mikozben-az-olebe-pottyant-az-online-kaszinopiac/

Sorry, this article was already quoted above.

Guest

I’d suggest that if political things take their course there I don’t think I would be far off the mark to say Hungary will shortly look more and more like the ‘big big Russki daddy’ off to its east. The Russia ‘black hole’ is just about swallowing up a dismal Hungary in the world of ideas.

I would admire a country if it imitates ideas on what is for the common good in societies but imitating an aggressive Putinist autocracy? That land of certainly ‘giving the people what they want’ and yet at the same time putting a chokehold and a closed grip on data and information from its citizens. The ‘democratic’ state of Russia is a sham under the circumstances.

If information control continues on its way in Hungary will have democracy die a slow death together with its organs. This is what happens when like-minded fellows think the same way and one fawns over another’s use of power. I can see bad days ahead for Europe if they get outclassed on this issue by those guys.

tappanch
Guest

“democracy die a slow death” – democracy died in Hungary quickly, between 2010 and 2012, IMHO.

What we now have is a not-yet-bloody, but choking dictatorship by kleptocrats, sponsored by German and other EU taxpayers’ money.

Guest

Re: the kleptocracy..

Fidesz looks like they’ve really paved the way to enable the government to function the way it does namely working for Fidesz rather than the populace.

Kind of like how Louis XIV set it up at Versailles with his fawning nobility dying to be at the foot of the great ‘Sun King’….arguably just like the current administration. Only difference today is the ‘nobles’ bankrupted themselves and their society in more ways than one in the effort. Today the Magyar nobles are making oodles of money as sure as it it followed from the ‘taking of power’.

Combos
Guest

Együtt and MSZP (two leftist ‘opposition’ parties) can’t even agree to send the bill containing the restriction to the freedom of information law to the Constitutional Court which is itself nothing more than a hopeless Fidesz party branch.

And the lefties would have to totally unite just to have the slimmest of chances at any election.

No wonder Orban and his supporters aren’t worried, They can defeat (purchase, threaten etc.) these leftist jackasses a thousand ways.

The corrupt and the stupid…A. J. Finkelstein was onto something. The stupidity of the leftists knows no bounds (they are corrupt too of course).

http://444.hu/2015/07/06/megint-nem-tudott-megegyezni-az-egyutt-es-az-mszp-igy-nem-kerul-az-infotorveny-elleni-beadvany-az-alkotmanybirosaghoz/

tappanch
Guest

This is how a Fidesz MP answered if he also agreed with the new law restricting freedom of information, if Fidesz become an opposition party.

“We will never ever be in opposition”

https://youtu.be/P2kA45x_Zh8

Member

And while Fidesz proceeds in closing Orbanistan, André Goodfriend is working on opening the US Government along the lines mandated by President Obama:
https://hackpad.com/How-to-participate-in-development-of-the-U.S.-Open-Government-National-Action-Plan-3.0-lYDkyBe1aCZ

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