What’s Up with the New Civil Code and Press Photographs?
A new story dominating English-language coverage of Hungary is about the new Civil Code, which came into effect on March 15th and is reportedly “killing the press photo in Hungary.”
“Ever since Hungary’s current government was elected back in 2010, the country has seen (…) a slow but noticeable drift away from the common values of the European Union. The country’s latest step towards becoming politically and socially isolated was the creation of a new law that requires photographers to ask permission of everyone in a photograph – before taking the picture. If this law is taken literally, it will make not only amateur street photography impossible, but also professional photojournalism.”
Sounds terrible, right? But is it accurate? Let’s see what Hungarian photographers have to say.
In “About the Civil Code Hysteria,” an author from a blog called Fotosarok (or, Photo Corner) emphasizes how he otherwise does not like the current government but also writes, “In my opinion this is nothing else, but pre-election hysteria, which one should not fall for, but many do it anyways.” The author explains: “Nothing new happened. There is nothing new in the new Civil Code. The legal practice for a decade in Hungary is that people can only be photographed with their consent. But, while for publication you need (in most cases) a consent, for taking a picture a so-called consent by act/behavior,” meaning, for example waving or posing for the photographer or simply seeing that he’s taking a photo and not opposing it.
“The hysteria causes more damage than the law itself,” writes Attila Völgyi, a well known Hungarian photographer on his blog, explaining that the Internet hysteria hardens photographers’ lives by spreading false information to everyday people, including of course possible photo subjects. Mr. Völgyi is a contributer to many Hungarian newspapers and international agencies online and offline, including Reuters and Europress.
“On March 15th, a new Civil Code was accepted and this is all the truth from the article [everyone is sharing]”, writes Völgyi. “What happened is what two laws regulated formerly is now put into one law (…), so regulations on public photographs are now in the same law. I’m not saying I like it, but for sure this is not news and the legal practice on taking photographs in public places has not changed at all,” he adds.
And there’s more.
Ebbets: Lunch atop a Skyscraper distorted in one of the articles. Source: 444.hu
Levente Hernádi, press photographer and picture editor at Index, a widely read, opposition-leaning news site comes to a similar conclusion on his blog. “Whatever happens on March 14th,” writes Hernádi, “the practice of how pictures get published in the news does not change.”
Hernádi explains that according to the new legislation, which is the same as the old one, consent from the subject is not needed in advance. Publication is what requires consent, but such consent could be given by behavior. Also, the rule doesn’t apply so rigorously to public figures and public events, and consent is not needed if the person is not recognizable. As Hernádi points out, the real aim of the regulation is, for example, to make it illegal to take a picture of someone unknown and use it for online dating. The regulation is unchanged, only restructured. The court practice remains.
Do the photographers above like this practice? The answer is clearly no. All three of them call for a more liberal regulation, but in all fairness, they state clearly that the situation, which, in their opinion could be more lenient, is not an invention of the new Civil Code. Part of it comes from existing regulation and part of it is a codifying of court practice.
Should the legislation continue to protect citizen’s rights or should it be more liberal than before? Now, that’s a debate worth having.
The international media coverage gives the impression that the new Civil Code is cracking down on the freedom of the press. But that’s clearly not the case. Does the new Civil Code kill the press photo? The rules are no different in practice than they were before.
Is the legislation outdated or inadequate? That’s a good question for the freedom of press versus citizens’ rights debate. An informed debate could help develop a consensus, but election campaign hysteria does not.