23rd Sep 2019

Hungary to present changes to media law

The Hungarian government has agreed to come forward with amendments to a controversial new media law that has caused widespread condemnation and largely overshadowed Budapest's first month at the helm of the rotating EU presidency.

Following a meeting between EU and Hungarian experts on Monday (7 February), the Hungarian government said it would send a first draft of alterations to the European Commission for analysis by 10 February.

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  • Mr Orban has used his two-thirds majority in the Hungarian parliament to pass a number of controversial measures (Photo: Lassi Kurkijärvi)

"The next step will be to study carefully the proposed changes," Jonathan Todd, spokesman for commissioner Neelie Kroes who handles the EU's media dossier, told journalists on Monday, adding that he hoped the issue could be wrapped up in "weeks rather than months".

Hungary's communication minister, Zoltan Kovacs, said Monday's negotiations had focused on three paragraphs of the media law, relating to balanced reporting, country of origin and media registration, the three areas of objection raised earlier this year by the commission.

Provisions on 'balanced reporting' are in breach of the EU's audiovisual regulation as they apply to media beyond broadcasting, such as video blogs, says the EU institution.

It also believes that rules on 'country of origin' could result in fines on foreign media outlets for non-compliance, while an obligation for all media services to register with the new authority could restrict rights of freedom of expression.

The two sides are now "very, very close" to resolving the issue, Mr Kovacs told the BBC, describing the planned changes as "technical issues".

A new media watchdog which can impose potentially ruinous fines of up to €735,000 on offending media, is not part of the commission's enquiry. Opponents say the media authority, which is entirely composed of members of the ruling Fidesz party, could also force journalists to reveal their sources.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has been harshly criticised for seeking to muzzle the press since the new media law came into force on 1 January this year, just as Budapest took over the EU presidency.

Protesters have taken to the streets in their thousands in Hungary, while a number of MEPs greeted Mr Orban in the European Parliament last month by placing tape over their mouths and hanging 'censorship' banners in front of their desks.

Green group leader Daniel Cohn-Bendit described Mr Orban as a "European Chavez, a national populist", while Socialist leader Martin Schulz said Hungary was in danger of becoming a dictatorship.

"Wow, that coming from a German," Mr Orban retorted at a subsequent news conference.

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