Hungary scores worst, marred by restrictions on online media
The level of Internet freedom is high in the four post-communist countries that comprise the Visegrad Four (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia), but there are big differences in terms of rights of freedom of expression, level of surveillance of online activity by police and intelligence agencies, and on the way the Internet is governed, according to a PASOS project report.
The Czech Republic ranks among the four countries as the leader in Internet freedom, scoring 37 out of 50 in contrast to a score of 28 for lowest-placed Hungary, according to the Internet Freedom Report 2014: Visegrad Four. Slovakia ranks second with 33, and Poland third with 30 out of 50.
The individual country studies of Internet Freedom 2014: Visegrad Four, drawn up according to a common methodology designed by PASOS, were produced by the Association for International Affairs (AMO), Czech Republic; the Center for Media & Communication Studies, School of Public Policy, Central European University, Hungary; the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), Poland; and the Institute for Public Affairs (IVO), Slovak Republic. The project was conducted in cooperation with Transitions, a Czech-based media development organization.
The report shows that the Czech Republic and Poland are staunch supporters of Internet freedom at home and abroad, engaging in intergovernmental forums in alliance with democratic governments that oppose state regulation and censorship of Internet content. In sharp contrast, publishers and bloggers in Hungary remain vulnerable to heavy fines and other sanctions, even after international pressure forced the government to roll back restrictions on online and other media.
Slovakia has a dynamic, uncensored Internet market, but out-of-control surveillance undermines the rule of law and right to privacy (virtually all requests by police and security agencies to conduct online surveillance were granted by the courts in 2012-2013). There is no widespread official surveillance of citizens’ online activities in Poland, but the courts almost always approve the thousands of police requests filed annually to engage in such monitoring.
In all four countries, reforms are required of the legal framework and its implementation, for instance concerning the rights and responsibilities of online media and the boundaries of freedom of expression for bloggers and journalists. Legislation needs to be modernized to reflect developments in the online world, and to recognize the enormous shift in personal communication and news delivery to the Internet.
“The project’s research is based on detailed analysis of the current situation – in law and in practice – in four main areas: freedom of expression, Big Brother (surveillance, regulation, and interference by the state), the Legal Maze (the clarity of the legal framework in terms of its letter and practice), and open government (transparency and online disclosure by government of its functioning and decisions, such as budget information and tender contracts),” said Jeff Lovitt, executive director of PASOS.
The country reports, comparative overview, and project methodology are available at the project’s website here.
The preparation of the reports was supported by Google. The reports were prepared with full research independence and the views expressed herein are views of the authors only, and not of Google.