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Restricting Freedom of Expression During The Pandemic: Protection of The Society, Or Attack On Media Freedom?

Boldizsár Szentgáli-Tóth
Centre for Social Sciences, Institute for Legal Studies
Hungary

Kinga Kálmán
Centre for Social Sciences, Institute for Legal Studies
Hungary

Several governments in and outside Europe have adopted restrictive measures on the freedom of expression quoting the protection of public safety against the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. In most cases introduced, criminal sanctions have been imposed on those, who disseminate fake news during the emergency situations. The supporters of these steps argued, that when the people are more isolated they have - especially the vulnerable layers of the society – less possibility to verify the credibility of information, the spread of false communications could cause severe disorder in the society, and undermine considerably the trust in public authorities, who are responsible for organising the collective efforts against the pandemic. For these reasons, during emergencies, criminal sanctions may be considered applicable commensurately in a broader circle against those, who convey misleading messages. By contrast, dissenters held, that the extra-ordinary circumstances only provide an additional ground for governments to justify their endeavours to control media, civil society, and especially the marketplace of ideas with silencing opposing views. Criminal law should be used just as an ultima ratio against those who just express their thoughts, and although the emergency may require the sanctioning of certain, otherwise acceptable messages, these cases should be demarcated rigorously, and be interpreted the narrowest possible. Moreover, the practice shows, that the authorities apply these restrictions arbitrarily several times, whilst these amendments stay in force even after the end of the public health emergency. Our aim is to analyse the conflicting arguments in these cases; to enumerate the available examples of such restrictions and their practical experience; as well as elaborate on the relevant constitutional case law.

 

 


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