a)  Hungary / b)  Constitutional Court / c) / d)  11-12-2017 / e)  34/2017 / f)  On annulling Judgment Pfv.IV.20.624/2016/9 of the Kúria and on a constitutional requirement stemming from Article IX.2 of the Fundamental Law / g)  Magyar Közlöny (Official Gazette), 2017/208 / h)  CODICES (Hungarian).
Keywords of the systematic thesaurus:
Fundamental Rights - Civil and political rights - Freedom of the written press.
Fundamental Rights - Civil and political rights - Rights in respect of the audiovisual media and other means of mass communication.
Keywords of the alphabetical index:
Press conference, report / Rumour spreading.
Publishing a true report on a press conference about issues of public events should not render the press liable for denigration.
I. In accordance with Article 24.2.d and with Section 27 of Act CLI of 2011 on the Constitutional Court (hereinafter, "ACC") the publisher of an internet news portal (the applicant in this matter) lodged a constitutional complaint against Judgment Pfv.IV.20.624/2016/9. of the Kúria (Curia of Hungary).
The applicant had been taken to task in civil court proceedings for violation of personality rights. The action against him stemmed from a published report about a press conference on the issue of tobacco shop competitions which was held by a Member of the National Assembly, also a member of a political party.
In this judgment, which was based on well-established case-law from the civil courts on the interpretation of the former Act IV of 1959 on the Civil Code, the applicant was found liable for false statement of facts, injuring the reputation of another politician, which had been communicated at the press conference. The Kúria underlined, that well-established practice stipulated that such a communication was to be considered as rumour-spreading, an objective criteria for violating the personality rights of the person concerned.
The applicant contended in his constitutional complaint that the judgment itself violated his rights enshrined in Article IX.1 of the Fundamental Law (freedom of speech) and in Article IX.2 of the Fundamental Law (freedom of the press). He observed that the Kúria had not taken into consideration the circumstances of the whole case (namely that it was a report on a press conference and that his intention had been to inform the citizens on a public issue whilst complying with all the relevant legislation.) In his view, the objective liability should not have been applied. The applicant added that in situations such as press conferences, journalists were not in a position to check the validity of the statements expressed. The Kúria’s judgment gave the impression that the press would be better-advised not to inform the public on certain issues, to avoid possible charges.
II. The Constitutional Court found that although the interpretation of the Kúria on rumour-spreading, on which the applicant’s liability had been established, was in line with established practice, it was in fact incompatible with the constitutional requirements stemming from Article IX.2 of the Fundamental Law (the freedom of press).
Imparting information to the public about events of public interest was an essential element of press activity and played a central role in forming democratic public opinion. The communication of information of public interest, including the statements made and the positions taken by public figures, was the primary constitutional duty of the press. Nobody should be condemned for performing their duty under the Fundamental Law. Accurate disclosure of what had been stated at the press conference in line with the actual news was in the essential interest of public debate. The Constitutional Court therefore held that the challenged judgment of the Kúria violated Article IX.2 of the Fundamental Law (freedom of the press).
The Constitutional Court also noted that the Kúria delivered its judgment in line with the legal regulations in force during the proceedings. The Constitutional Court, in line with Section 46.3 of the ACC, formulated a constitutional requirement stemming from Article IX.2 of the Fundamental Law (freedom of the press) to the effect that rumour-spreading would not be established and objective liability would not be applied, when a report was published in the press on a press conference about the public affairs of public figures, if the person or entity reporting gave an accurate account of what had been presented there, without adding its own assessment, by clearly indicating the sources of information, and by offering those who were affected by the statements of fact and whose reputation might have been tarnished the opportunity to publish a reply or rebuttal.
III. Justice István Balsai, Justice Ágnes Czine, Justice Egon Dienes-Oehm, Justice László Salamon, Justice Péter Szalay and Justice Mária Szívós attached a dissenting opinion to the decision.