Defamation (Criminal Code Art. 226; rágalmazás) : Defined as engaging in the written or oral publication of anything that is injurious to the good name or reputation of another person, or using an expression directly referring to such a fact. The penalty is imprisonment for up to one year.
Offenders are punished with imprisonment for up to two years if the act of defamation is committed “for a malicious motive or purpose”, is published with great publicity, e.g. in the media, or causes “considerable injury” to the claimant.
Libel (Criminal Code Art. 227; becsületsértés): Defined as disseminating a false publication orally or any other way tending to harm a person’s reputation either in connection with his professional, public office, or public activity or in broad publicity. The penalty is imprisonment for up to one year.
In practice, prison sentences are often converted into a fine .
A 2013 amendment to the Hungarian Criminal Code (Art. 226A) states that anyone who makes fake video or sound recordings with the purpose of harming another person’s reputation is guilty of a misdemeanour punishable with imprisonment for up to two years.
According to Art. 226B, if such recording is make accessible to the public, the offender shall be punished with imprisonment for up to two years. The punishment can be increased to three years imprisonment if the offence is committed with great publicity (e.g. in the media) or if it causes considerable injury to the claimant.
Criminal Defamation of Public Officials
Note that according to Art. 52 the Hungarian Code of Criminal Procedure , prosecutions for defamation and libel may only be initiated by the victim as a private accusation. However, when libel or defamation is committed against a public official in connection with official duty or operations, prosecution is carried about by a public prosecutor.
Criminal Defamation of the Head of State
Criminal Defamation of the State and its Symbols
Using a harmful or disrespectful expression directed at the Hungarian anthem, flag, coat of arms, or the Holy Crown of Hungary is a criminal offence under Art. 334 of the Hungarian Criminal Code. The punishment is imprisonment for up to one year.
Criminal Defamation of Foreign Heads of State
Criminal Defamation of Foreign States and Symbols
Criminal Defamation of the Deceased
According to Art. 228 of the Hungarian Criminal Code, the provisions and punishments for defamation or libel can also apply when these acts are directed against the deceased.
The following are official data on convictions for selected articles of the Criminal Code for the year 2014 from Statistics Denmark, provided upon request to the International Press Institute .
• For Arts. 267-270 (defamation and insult), there was 1 conviction resulting in 1 criminal fine.
• For Art. 121 (insult of a public official), there were 43 convictions, resulting in 7 prison sentences and 9 criminal fines. These numbers do not include data for insult of a police officer, considered under the same article, for which there were 289 convictions resulting in 46 prison sentences and 217 fines.
• For Art. 115 (lèse-majesté), there were 0 convictions.
• For Art. 140 (blasphemy), there were 0 convictions.
• For Art. 274 (insulting the honour of the dead), there were 0 convictions.
Criminal Law and Media
1. General notes
The following criminal justice data were provided upon request to the International Press Institute by the Hungarian Central Statistical Office. The data below refer to the year 2014 .
• For Art. 226 (defamation), 316 persons were convicted, resulting in 16 prison sentences (suspension not specified), 62 criminal fines, 192 supplementary punishments and measures, 43 sentences of work for public interest, 2 other, and 2 instances in which no punishment was ordered.
• For Art. 227 (libel), 213 persons were convicted, resulting in 2 prison sentences (suspension not specified), 21 criminal fines, and 119 supplementary punishments and measures.
3. Selected cases
In 2014, the Hungarian Constitutional Court reversed a lower court’s ruling convicting Otto Szalai, a magazine owner and politician, of criminally defaming a mayor in an article he wrote for his magazine. In the article, Szalai claimed that certain members of the local government, including the mayor, were rewarded while the city budget was in the loss. Szalai alleged that the officials in question treated taxpayers’ money as if it were their own. The lower court determined the article to be a statement of fact and ruled that since Szalai had not proved those facts true he was guilty of defamation. The Constitutional Court overruled the decision. In the Court’s view, statements must be differentiated between value judgments and factual allegations. Value judgments are protected by freedom of expression almost without limitation, while allegations of fact are subject to a burden of proof. In this case, the Constitution Court found that the lower Court had interpreted the definition of a factual statement too broadly and had thus illegitimately restricted Szalai’s right to free speech. The Constitutional Court’s opinion stressed that, in a democracy, free speech related to public life must enjoy extra protection and that its decision should serve as guidance for future similar cases. It also stated that in criminal cases courts should pay particular attention to the context of the expression, as well as to the circumstances of publication.
In another case, journalist Péter Uj wrote an opinion column for a national daily paper in which he criticised the quality of a well-known variety of Hungarian wine produced by a state-owned corporation. In the column, Uj wondered why “hundreds of thousands of Hungarians drink [this] shit”. A lower court found him guilty of defamation, ruling that Uj’s criticism went beyond the boundaries of acceptable journalistic criticism and sentenced him to be one-year probationary period. The verdict was eventually upheld by the Hungarian Supreme Court. Uj appealed to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), which in 2011 ruled in his favour. The Court observed: “… there is a difference between the commercial reputational interests of a company and the reputation of an individual concerning his or her social status. Whereas the latter might have repercussions on one’s dignity, for the Court interests of commercial reputation are devoid of that moral dimension. In the instant application, the reputational interest at stake is that of a State-owned corporation; it is thus a commercial one without relevance to moral character”.
Recent Legal Changes
A 2013 amendment to the Hungarian Criminal Code (Art. 226A) states that anyone who makes fake video or sound recordings with the purpose of harming another person’s reputation is guilty of a misdemeanour punishable with imprisonment for up to two years. According to Art. 226B, if such recording is make accessible to the public, the offender shall be punished with imprisonment for up to two years. The punishment can be increased to three years imprisonment if the offence is committed with great publicity (e.g., in the media) or if it causes considerable injury to the claimant.
In December 2015, the Justice Committee of the Hungarian Parliament failed to advance a bill that would have repealed criminal defamation laws and established safeguards against the abuse of civil defamation law. 30 international press freedom and freedom of expression organisations had written to the Committee’s chairman in support of the bill .
Notes and Acknowledgements
Information for Hungary was originally collected by IPI as part of the “Out of Balance” report, published in January 2015 with support from the European Commission and incorporating research contributed by Center for Media, Data and Society at Central European University in Budapest and by the SHARE Foundation in Belgrade. This entry was later expanded and updated by IPI as part of a study commissioned by the Office of the Representative on Freedom of the Media of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Last update: March 2017.
The information contained in this database is for informational and advocacy purposes only. If you are a journalist facing a defamation claim, you should seek legal advice from a qualified attorney. However, if you are unable to find such an attorney, IPI may be able to assist you in doing so. Please contact us at info(at)ipi.media.