European court ruling could allow banned press back into Parliament

February 10, 2017

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that journalists cannot be barred from a country’s parliament building, unless they pose a direct threat to public safety or endanger government representatives or others in the media. The decision could affect journalists and media organizations in Hungary, several of whom have recently been banned from entering the parliament building by the National Assembly.

The ECHR ruling came from a 2012 case from Macedonia, in which opposition politicians were escorted out during a parliamentary debate at the instruction of the presiding chairman. Journalists observing the proceedings from the gallery of the parliament were also removed. Six journalists challenged the removal in a Macedonian court, arguing that the action violated their freedom of speech and harmed public interest, but the case was dismissed, finally ending up at the ECHR in Strasbourg.

The ruling may compel the Hungarian government to conduct itself differently toward the press in its own Parliament; the government may have to retract its ban on journalists from news site 444.hu, which has been in effect since October after the National Assembly revoked the press accreditation of all the site’s journalists.

444 is not the only media outlet to be kept at a distance: the National Assembly is in the habit of barring certain media from parliamentary grounds, usually left-leaning or opposition outlets. HVG, Index, NOL and 24.hu all had reporters banned from Parliament in April 2016, and were only readmitted the following September. News staff at RTL, Hungary’s largest television broadcaster, have also been banned in recent years for allegedly violating house rules.

On one occasion, an RTL journalist and film crew tried to attend a joint “closed” press conference held by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Only representatives of state media outlets were permitted to enter the press conference.

A few months earlier, the National Assembly revoked the entry privileges of two RTL Klub employees for asking the prime minister a question in Parliament outside of the designated press area.