Eduardo Bolsonaro, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies and son of President Jair Bolsonaro, has just come back from Europe, where he visited Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. After the visit, he thanked Orban for lessons on “dealing with the press.” The problem is, Orban’s method of dealing with the press is anti-democratic and inconsistent with human rights protections.
Under Orban’s mandate, Hungary has suffered an alarming decline in freedom of speech and media protections. After a landslide victory in 2010, a two-thirds majority in parliament enabled his party to speed passage of five repressive media laws within a year. The laws obliged the media to provide “proper” news coverage. They set up a single agency with sweeping powers over print, broadcast, and internet. And they punished vaguely defined transgressions such as “hurting” public order.
People close to Orban or his party now control more than 500 media outlets. To starve independent media of revenue, the government places virtually no advertising with them and private companies don’t advertise in dissenting media for fear of losing out on lucrative state contracts. Public service TV and radio have become mouthpieces for the government. Independent voices have had to defend themselves in court against bogus charges of defamation and libel, and some have been banned from government news conferences.
It isn’t only the media that Orban is attempting to silence. His administration has introduced legislation targeting nongovernmental organizations and universities. The government has attacked George Soros, a Hungarian-born philanthropist known for supporting democratic movements and human rights groups—especially those that promote respect and aid for refugees and migrants. Hungarian authorities have accused such groups of being “foreign mercenaries”.
Orban’s government has also undermined the independence of Hungary’s judicial system—establishing a National Judicial Office (NJO) with extraordinary powers to appoint and promote judges—and packing Hungary’s constitutional court with hand-picked justices. The NJO is headed by Orban’s best friend’s wife. Recently, Orban’s party rushed a law through parliament creating an administrative court system for which the justice minister will select all the judges. It will handle cases affecting the right to a vote, to asylum, and to assembly, and complaints of police violence, so it is intended to hold the government to account. But it makes a mockery of the separation of powers and the rule of law.
The scapegoating of “national enemies” is an important part of Orban’s playbook. He won a third term last year by demonizing migrants, European Union bureaucrats, Soros, and any organizations or media outlets affiliated with Soros.
Restricting freedoms by undercutting the courts and threatening, sanctioning, or prosecuting journalists and non-governmental organizations that criticize the government is banned under international law. Although it is not clear exactly what “lessons” Eduardo Bolsonaro believes he learned in Hungary, Orban’s method of governing is not what we want to emulate in Brazil.