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The EU Must Stop Hungarian Net Censorship

La Quadrature du Net joins the blackout operation launched by Hungarian civil rights activists who oppose the newly enacted media law. Everybody is invited to join the blackout and contact their representatives to oppose any kind of censorship in the European Union.

This law imposes a stringent regulation of printed, audiovisual and online media which severely undermines the democratic foundations of the Hungarian republic.

Today, La Quadrature also sent a letter to the European Commission and the President of the EU Parliament to ask them to take concrete steps to protect freedom of expression in Hungary1.

Letter to EU institutions

Dear Mr. Barroso, President of the European Commission,
Dear Mrs. Reding, Vice-President of the European Commission, in charge of Justice and fundamental rights,
Dear Mrs. Kroes, Vice-President of the European Commission, in charge of the Digital Agenda,
Dear Mr. Buzek, President of the European Parliament,

As Hungary takes over the Presidency of the EU Council, we want to add our voice to those of the many civil society and governmental organizations who have denounced the dangerous drift toward a regime of a priori political control of information in this EU country. We ask you to take urgent and concrete steps to oppose it.

As you are aware, Hungary's new media law creates a compulsory registration system for all content providers, including websites. Such a provision directly contravenes the declaration on freedom of communication on the Internet adopted by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on May 28th, 2003. The declaration provides that "the active participation of the public, for example by setting up and running individual websites, should not be subject to any licensing or other requirements having a similar effect". What is more, the law creates an administrative authority that will have the power to enforce drastic restrictions on free speech across the whole public sphere. The press as well as websites will be subject to the regulatory power of a political body whose independence is far from effective. This would be a unique situation in the European Union, and in liberal democracies around the world.

Freedom of expression is the cornerstone of democracy. When the benefits of the Internet should hold us clear of unnecessary restrictions on free of speech – especially for private individuals – this law takes us decades backward by creating the structure of a censorship regime. The Internet can help us improve the functioning of our democracies by allowing anybody to engage in democratic deliberation: controlling elected representatives, evaluating the way they exert their duties, coming up with viable political propositions that can be taken into account by democratic institutions, thus legitimising the political power. But if the public sphere is crushed by the control of the State, who can use vague concepts such as "objectivity" to enforce stringent sanctions, then deliberation is hindered and society drifts away from the democratic ideal.

Such a law is not tolerable in the European Union, nor anywhere else for that matter. If it is upheld, the Hungarian Presidency of the EU Council will send a disastrous message to the rest of the world. All EU countries should be held to the highest democratic standards. Even if a comprehensive framework for protecting freedom of expression on the Internet is not yet available at the EU level, the provisions of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and of the Treaties enable you to take immediate action to protect European values. If these values are to mean anything, then you – as guardians and representatives of the Union – cannot just sit back and go on to "business as usual". The Treaty provides a procedure to sanction a Member State that fails to respect its commitment to the universal values embodied by the European project. We ask you not to hesitate to launch the procedure provided by article 7, which can lead to the suspension of that Member State's rights in EU institutions.

Urgent and decisive action is needed now that the law has already come into force. Freedom of expression is the basis of our democratic society, and realpolitik cannot be an excuse for inaction against attacks on democracy, especially when such attacks occur in the Union. We trust that you will adopt the right path of action, and defend the fundamental rights of our fellow EU citizens in Hungary.

Sincerely,

Philippe Aigrain, Gérald Sédrat-Dinet, Benjamin Sonntag et Jérémie Zimmermann, co-founders of La Quadrature du Net.

  • 1. The Treaty on European Union provides a procedure to sanction a Member State that fails to respect the Union's founding values (article 7 of the treaty). EU leaders should not hesitate to use this provision if the Hungarian authorities refuse to abrogate their liberty-killer media law.