New Hungarian law requires photographers to ask permission before taking a picture

by Felix Esser

posted Monday, March 17, 2014 at 12:45 PM EST

Ever since Hungary's current government was elected back in 2010, the country has seen a strong move to the political right, and 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.

Previously, Hungarian law required permission from everyone in a photograph before publishing it, but now it requires photographers to get permission from everyone that could be identifiable in the resulting picture before taking it. Those in defense of the new law argue that it merely codifies existing court practice, and the ministry of justice advises photographers to look out of people not waving in protest or running out of the scene. Photographers and photojournalists in the country, meanwhile, are afraid the new law will make it impossible for them to do their jobs.

"Can we take photos of strangers: say people looking at a shop window? Do we shoot first and ask permission later?" asks photojournalist Ákos Stiller, who works for the New York Times among others, and photo editor Márton Magócsi argues that "having to ask for permission beforehand is quite unrealistic in any reportage situation." But not only professional photographers are critics of the new law. Lawyer Eszter Bognár deems the regulation "nonsense" and "impossible" to implement.

Pictures like this Budapest street scene are virtually impossible to take under the new law. (Credit: Yazan Badran on Flickr)

But then why has the law been passed in the first place? Bognár has her own theory: "It's going to be more difficult to take pictures of policemen." In fact, a previously issued law already requires the pixelation of policemen's faces in photographs that are published – a regulation unparalleled in Europe. But the new law would make it altogether impossible to photograph or film the actions of law enforcement officials or security personnel.

It is a shame to see the country's photographic heritage being spurned in such a way – after all, it is the birthplace of Robert Capa and Joseph Pulitzer. As Stiller puts it, "there is a great tradition of Hungarian photography, and we plan to continue it, but this law is not making our job easier. Capa would be ashamed, or would do what he did: leave for somewhere [where] the policemen have a face."

(via The Guardian via PetaPixel)