Hungarian court upholds bizarre law banning media from showing faces of police officers

The Supreme Court of Hungary (also known as the “Kúria”) ruled against an earlier decision by the Constitutional Court, which would have allowed for newspapers, news sites and the media in general to publish photographs depicting Hungarian police officers while on active duty. At the moment, journalists using photographs of officers engaged in police action of any sort must conceal the identity of the given officer, by blurring out his/her face. The Constitutional Court had argued that keeping people with public power accountable takes priority over any privacy considerations. The Supreme Court saw things differently, and argued that nothing trumps personal privacy rights. As such, Hungarian media must not only cover the faces of bystanders or residents in public places, when they appear in photographs, but also those of police officers engaged in official business. This is also why Hungarian publications are not able to show the faces or reveal the identities of those who have been charged with a crime, but not yet convicted.

A police officer in Budapest guards the highly controversial Monument to the German Occupation in Liberty Square from Holocaust survivors, descendants and civil activists in 2014. Photo: HFP / Christopher Adam

A police officer in Budapest guards the highly controversial Monument to the German Occupation in Liberty Square from Holocaust survivors, descendants and civil activists in 2014. Photo: HFP / Christopher Adam

The matter was brought before the courts by the Index news site, which indicated that it was disappointed in the Supreme Court ruling. The publication intends to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights, in Strasbourg.

The original case dates back to 2011, when Index published a report of a demonstration organized by police unions. The online publication faced a civil lawsuit and a Budapest court ruled that Index had to pay compensation for showing the faces of police officers in photos taken at that protest. Initially, in 2014, the Constitutional Court ruled that Index was well within its right to document these events and to share the identities of police officers. It was this ruling that the Supreme Court overturned on Wednesday.

It is very difficult to imagine how police officers can be held to account and how potential abuse can be prevented or addressed, should it occur, if Hungary’s media cannot reveal the identity of officers wielding significant powers. We hope that the justices in Strasbourg side with Index.

3 Comments

  1. Why blur the face, wouldn’t it be more practical to change the police officers uniform? My suggestion.

    http://i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/03051/jihadi-john_3051871b.jpg

  2. Just send the photos to activists. They can post them, domestically or abroad. This law is not only absurd but unenforceable in the online era. It just arbitrarily handicaps the press. (When law-enforcement officers are on an anti-terrorist machine, they wear masks in any case.) This whole thing is typical Orbanian oafery.

  3. “machine” should have been “mission” above…

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