ECtHR finds Hungary interfered with press freedom by refusing to allow journalist access centre for asylum seekers

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has found Hungary in breach of press freedom for refusing to allow a journalist access to a centre for asylum seekers.

In September 2015, Illés Szurovecz, a young Hungarian journalist for an Internet news portal, contacted Hungarian immigration authorities to obtain permission to enter the Debrecen Reception Centre to document the living conditions of asylum seekers. He stressed that he would only write about those who gave their prior consent. The authorities denied permission, citing concern for the private life and security of the residents.

Domestic proceedings failed as the decision was deemed not to be administrative in nature and therefore not subject to judicial review. Mr Szurovecz therefore lodged an application with the ECtHR relying on Article 10 (freedom of expression) and Article 13 (right to effective remedy) of the European Convention. He argued that the authorities had prevented him from reporting on the living conditions of asylum seekers residing at the Debrecen Reception Centre at the peak of the refugee crisis in Hungary.

The Court firstly acknowledged that there had been an interference with Mr Szurovecz’s freedom of expression. Mr Szurovecz was prevented from gathering first-hand information and verifying the conditions of detention as reported by other sources. The Court stated that creating obstacles to access to information for journalists could discourage or even prevent them from providing accurate and reliable information to the public.

Although the Court noted that the basis of the interference was lawful, being a Ministerial decree that aimed to protect the private lives of asylum seekers, it nonetheless found that the reasons provided by the authorities in refusing Mr Szurovecz’s request were insufficient.

The Court found that the authorities failed to consider Mr Szurovecz’s commitment to obtaining full consent from participating residents. The Court stated that while the reporting was connected with the private lives of asylum seekers, the journalist sought to raise issues of public interest rather than sensationalise their stories. The authorities failed to explain how the safety of asylum seekers might be jeopardised in practice, particularly where safeguards around consent were in place.

In addition, the Court disagreed with the argument that Mr Szurovecz could have carried out research using second-hand information published by international organisations and NGOs. The Court held that such an avenue could not compare with first hand, face-to-face interviews with asylum seekers and obtaining pictures of their living conditions.

Based on these findings, the Court ruled that there had been a violation of Article 10 of the Convention and, as a result, there was no need to examine the complaint under Article 13.

Click here for the decision in Szurovecz v Hungary.



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