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5th Mar 2024

Kroes gives Hungary an ultimatum on media law

The EU commissioner in charge of media issues, Neelie Kroes, has raised "serious doubts" about Hungary's new media law in a letter to Budapest and given the country a two-week ultimatum to the government to explain itself. Hungarian leader Viktor Orban however said the law was intended to combat racism.

"The commission services have serious doubts as to the compatibility of Hungarian legislation with Union law. Considering the urgency of this case ... I invite the Hungarian government to submit within two weeks observations on how these serious doubts may be addressed," the letter, sent on Friday (21 January) and seen by EUobserver, says.

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  • Ms Kroes has told Budapest to change the media law or face legal action (Photo: European Parliament)

Ms Kroes also warned the Mr Orban's government that if they "fail to satisfy" the requests, she may take legal action against Hungary.

The commission finds worrying three provisions in the Hungarian media law.

Firstly, "obligation to provide balanced coverage" by all audiovisual media, which it says appears disproportionate in regards to freedom of expression and information as enshrined in the EU's Charter of Fundamental Rights, which Hungary has signed.

Secondly, the proportionality of imposing fines or restricting content from other member states, which under EU law can only be done in cases of incitement to hatred or where the protection of minors is at stake, but which Hungary is keen to stretch further.

Finally, Ms Kroes finds that the new obligation to register all media, including bloggers, a "disproportionate restriction to the freedom of establishment and the free provision of services," as well as an infringement on the fundamental right of freedom expression and information.

The Hungarian government, whose rotating EU presidency has been tarnished by the media law affair over the past month, is trying to downplay the criticism.

In an interview with Hungarian press agency MTI, Zoltan Kovacs, the state secretary for government communications, said on Tuesday (24 January) that the "[Kroes] letter contains questions of a technical nature rather than ones relating to freedom of speech and freedom of the press."

Speaking to a Jewish delegation in Brussels the same day during an event commemorating the Holocaust, Prime Minister Orban said his new law is aimed at combating anti-Semitism and racism.

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