Defamation remains a criminal offence in Hungary (punishable with imprisonment).
There are two defamation-related offences in the Hungarian Criminal Code.
Art. 226 of the Criminal Code states that “anyone who engages in the written or oral publication of anything that is injurious to the good name or reputation of another person, or uses an expression directly referring to such a fact” is guilty of defamation (rágalmazás). The punishment 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.
Art. 227 of the Criminal Code states that anyone who disseminates 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 is guilty of libel (becsületsértés). The punishment is imprisonment for up to one year.
Criminal Defamation of Public Officials
Criminal Defamation of the Head of State
Criminal Defamation of the State and its Symbols
Provisions on the books.
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 States and Symbols
Criminal Defamation of the Deceased
Provisions on the books.
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.
Other Relevant Criminal Offences
Sound and video recordings
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.
According to Art. 52 the Hungarian , 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.
Statistics on Application
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 , 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, 21 criminal fines, and 119 supplementary punishments and measures.
Full data for the years 2010 – 2014 can be downloaded here (Excel, English).
According to Sec. 2:45 (“Integrity and Reputation”), a person violates a victim’s integrity when he or she publicly makes a false and malicious oral statement designed to damage the victim’s reputation and to cause people to have a poor opinion of the victim.
Sec. 2:44 provides weaker protection for the personality rights of politically active persons. It is stated that exercising fundamental rights related to a free debate on public affairs may diminish the protection of personality rights afforded to politically active persons to the extent necessary and proportionate, without prejudice to human dignity. Notably, this section was revised by the Hungarian Constitutional Court before the Civil Code took effect. The original extent contained an extra condition, namely, that expressing an opinion on public affairs was only acceptable if it met public interest. The Constitutional Court ruled this condition unconstitutional as, according to the Court, it would have restrained freedom of expression and the press and would have prevented a free debate on public affairs.
There are no caps on non-pecuniary damages for defamation in Hungarian law.
Sec. 2:51 specifies that the following sanctions that may be sought by any person whose personality rights have been violated:
• a court ruling establishing that there has been an infringement of rights
• the cessation of the infringement and an order on the perpetrator to refrain from further acts of infringement
• appropriate compensation and a public disclosure at the perpetrator’s expense
• the nullification of the effects of the infringement
• surrender by the perpetrator of any financial advantage acquired via the infringement according to the principle of unjust enrichment.
Section 2:53 states generally that any person who suffers any damage from the violation of his or her personality rights shall have the right to demand compensation from the perpetrator in accordance with the provisions on liability for damages resulting from unlawful actions.
Sec. 2:52 stipulates restitution for any non-material violation for a person whose personality rights were violated. The court is to determine the amount of restitution in one sum, taking into account the gravity of the infringement, whether it was committed on one or more occasions, the degree of responsibility, the impact of the infringement upon the aggrieved party and his or her environment.
No defences are specifically provided for defamation. Defences are subject to the appreciation of Hungarian courts and to Hungarian jurisprudence.
Media Cases and Case Law
In 2014, the Hungarian Constitutional Court 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”.
Another case involved the journalist Endre Babus. Babus wrote an article for the newspaper HVG on poor performance by one of Hungary’s country courts. The article was based on recent research and stated that the judges worked slowly, the court had almost gone bankrupt, documents were missing, etc. The research had been carried out by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Following publication, the Public Prosecution Service launched several criminal defamation and libel actions against Babus. Babus conceded that he had made one factual mistake in the article that was the result of mistaken research. A lower court found him guilty due to this mistake. The Budapest Appeals Court in 2009 overturned the decision and setting a key precedent. The appeals court ruled that despite the existence of a factual mistake, a court must examine whether the journalist in question had any wrongful motive and whether he followed the rules of his profession. If he had no wrongful motive and followed such rules, a minor mistake, in the appeals court’s view, is not enough to establish criminal liability.
Recent Legal Changes
No known relevant changes.
Notes and Acknowledgements
Information on defamation laws in Europe was collected by the International Press Institute (IPI) in collaboration with the School of Public Policy’s Center for Media, Data and Society at Central European University in Budapest and their partners at the SHARE Foundation in Belgrade. (Read more about our partners here.)
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 ipi[at]freemedia.at.
Information on Hungary was last updated in January 2015.