The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom, today expressed concern over a court decision in Hungary ordering the recall of the most recent issue of Forbes magazine’s Hungarian edition.
The owners of the Hungarian energy drink company Hell Energy had filed suit against the magazine over its inclusion of one of the owners in its list of the 50 richest Hungarians. A Budapest court granted a preliminary injunction against the magazine last week, which also compelled it to remove the owner’s name from its website, Forbes Hungary told IPI.
Hell Energy’s suit does not challenge the truthfulness of the information, which Forbes Hungary said it compiled from publicly available data, but instead claims the magazine violated the European Union’s new data privacy rules known as the General Data Protection Regulation in including the owner’s name on the list without his permission.
IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen strongly criticized the injunction.
“This is an absurd interpretation of the GDPR and sets a very troubling precedent for media coverage of business affairs in Hungary”, he said. “The abuse of GDPR regulations to effectively give companies and business owners a veto over how publicly available information about them is used directly threatens media freedom and has the potential to seriously undermine access to independent information on issues of public interest.”
Griffen said the decision was especially problematic given the close links between the state and private business in Hungary. The magazine noted that Hell Energy had received state subsidies, which it said underscored the public relevance of the owner’s wealth.
In a statement published on Forbes Hungary’s website, the editor-in-chief, Márton Galambos, said that if such a generalized interpretation of the GDPR is allowed to stand, “business journalism will be made impossible in Hungary … instead of real articles, there will be only PR articles ”. The magazine said that it would now fight the case in court.
In December, an IPI-led international mission to Hungary found that since 2010 the Hungarian government led by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán had systematically dismantled media independence and distorted the media market, achieving a degree of media control unprecedented in an EU member state. The mission report underscored that Orbán had built up a pro-government media empire in large part through engineering the takeover of once-independent media by pro-government businessmen.