Curia upholds NVB decision citing government’s right to exercise freedom of expression

August 30, 2016

"Did you know? Brussels wants to settle a city's worth of illegal immigrants in Hungary."
“Did you know? Brussels wants to settle a city’s worth of illegal immigrants in Hungary.”

Hungary’s highest court, the Curia (Kúria), has ruled that the government’s public information campaign linking immigration to terrorism is lawful because it does not “allege facts”, but merely conveys the government’s opinion on a matter of public interest.

In doing so it has upheld a decision on the part of Hungary’s National Election Committee (NVB) that the government’s referendum campaign had not violated any laws.

“Manipulative intent”

Hungarian Socialist Party deputy chairman András Nemény, acting as a private citizen, petitioned the court to overturn the NVB decision.  In his opinion, billboards like the following violated the principle of holding elections in good faith.

“Did you know?  Brussels wants to settle a city’s worth of illegal immigrants in Hungary.”

Nemény complained to the court that the government’s anti-immigration campaign contains numerous baseless assertions regarding the European Council’s burden-sharing decision for the resettlement of asylum seekers from Germany and Italy to other EU member states.  He claims that the campaign combines significant statements having manipulative intent, and that the government should not even participate in the campaign and, if so, it should adopt a neutral position.

Freedom of expression

The NVB ruled that the government, as the initiator of the referendum, played a determining role in the referendum, and for this reason could not be a pure observer or neutral participant, and that the contested advertisement expressed the government’s political opinion in order to influence the voting public.  Citing an earlier Constitutional Court decision, the NVB ruled that the government’s right to do so was protected by the freedom of expression.

Citing the same Constitutional Court decision, according to which

“value judgements pertaining to conflicting opinions over public matters enjoy enhanced constitutional protection, and the freedom of expression only does not protect selfish statements falling outside the circle of the debate of public matters”

the Curia upheld the NVB’s decision with regard to the freedom of expression.

The Curia further ruled that, in light of the Constitutional Court’s decision, it did not have the right to examine whether the statements contained allegations of fact and, if so, whether they were grounded in fact or baseless.