The gross distortion of facts in a state of danger is “biased and irresponsible”, particularly false information that “undermines our best efforts to protect the population against a dangerous pandemic,” Minister of State for International Communication and Relations Zoltán Kovács stressed in a comment posted on the English-language website on Saturday.

The Minister of State responded to international media reactions to a Hungarian bill submitted to Parliament on Friday. In his view, these reactions were “a gross distortion of the facts”.

He said on Friday, the government proposed legislation that would extend the duration of the extraordinary measures (those put in place to fight the coronavirus) until the end of the state of danger. It also includes provisions to cover the possibility of a forced parliamentary break, which some media said was “prompting concerns.” But that is in the text because if Parliament has no quorum – because more than half of the MPs are missing – it will not be able to extend the state of danger. Unless Parliament has a quorum, all of our regulations in connection with the state of danger will expire, he stated.

The draft legislation would prohibit elections or referenda until the end of the state of danger. Hungary does not have any elections scheduled in the near future. The Minister of State observes that we are seeing examples in other countries where they are postponing elections.

The proposed law would also impose new sanctions against those who undermine the effort to protect the country against the spread of the virus. In particular, the law would make it a criminal offence to spread false information that may confuse large groups of people and provoke unrest.

“What was the response from the liberal, mainstream press? Orbán is going to jail journalists!”, he said.

“Like a well-rehearsed orchestra, they jumped on the story,” he said, adding that Direkt36 and POLITICO Europe correspondents, citing AFP coverage, began circulating the sensational line that “Hungarian journalists could end up spending several years in jail” and that it is meant to distract from the real story, which is the shortage of face masks and an unprepared healthcare system. “As I responded on Twitter this afternoon, this proposed law is like the sanction against falsely shouting ‘Fire!’ in a crowded movie theater,” he said. That is the classic legal analogy for speech that is not protected because it is dangerous and false, he added.

He underlined that the purpose of the proposed legislation is to protect people from the spread of the virus.

“We’re in a state of emergency, by the way. Lives are at stake. This gross distortion of the facts is biased and irresponsible,” Mr Kovács wrote in his post.

(Cabinet Office of the Prime Minister/MTI)