Sunday

16th Jun 2019

Hungary's media crackdown slips off EU radar

Hungary's Media Act - put out January last year - drew international condemnation, but to little avail. The ruling right-wing Fidesz party now has control over a press that is fast-losing its independence and sense of balance.

"The politicians control the media in Hungary. It is not controlled by media self-regulation," Oliver Vujovic, secretary-general of the Vienna-based South East Europe Media Organisation (Seemo) told this website, noting that journalists are becoming reluctant to report on politically sensitive issues.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • Media under fire in Hungary (Photo: g.rohs)

Under the new law, which entered into force on 1 January 2011, anyone - even anonymously - can file a complaint against any news outlet that its report was, for example, biased. If found guilty, TV stations can be fined up to €700,000, papers and websites up to €36,000 and individual journalists up to €7,250.

The Media Council - a new regulator run by five pro-government people whose mandates are nine years long - imposes the fines.

"Members of the council are delegated by Fidesz. There are no members from the opposition parties," Szabolcs Hegyi, from the Budapest-based Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU) told EUobserver.

The regulator is also in charge of all tendering, licensing and spectrum management. All media are required to register with the body, which appoints directors in public outlets, such as state TV channel MTV.

In 2010, top decision-makers from the Hungarian Television, Hungarian Radio, Duna Television and the Hungarian News Agency were replaced by apparatchiks widely known to support Fidesz.

You're talking nonsense Mr Regulator

The Hungarian government at the time said its law is based on existing regulations inside EU countries. But an analysis of EU-sourced media law by the Budapest-based Center for Media and Communications Studies indicates this is not true.

The report - out earlier this month - looks at 56 media regulations from 20 European and EU countries cited in two statements by the Hungarian ministry of justice in its defence.

"These analyses indicate that the Hungarian government's general assertion that its media laws are derived from those in other European and EU member states cannot be substantiated by the examples it provided. Instead, many of the most important features of Hungary's new media laws appear to be unique," it said.

It highlighted several factual errors in Hungary's line, such as citing out-dated laws and misrepresenting the real powers of other regulators.

The Hungarian government could not be immediately contacted for a comment on the issue.

Meanwhile, Hungary's Constitutional Court in mid-December struck down some parts of the new rules. It said journalists should not be forced to disclose sources, that print media should be exempt and that the institution of the media ombudsman - another control mechanism - should be eliminated.

The court's decision must be endorsed by parliament to have any meaning. But HCLU - for one - is sceptical this will happen.

"The parliament must enact a law to make it a reality. For the moment, there are no indications they will do this," the NGO's Hegyi said. He added that the court failed to address questions on sanctions and on Fidesz control of the Media Council.

Brushed under the carpet

For its part, the European Commission last January said the media law undermines freedom of expression and media diversity in the teeth of EU regulations.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban changed the bill to make it easier for foreign media to operate in the country and softened rules on "balanced" coverage and "offensive" content on Internet agencies and blogs.

EU digital affairs commissioner Neelie Kroes at the time said it is good enough for her.

But experts say the changes skirt real problems, especially the Fidesz monopoly on media oversight.

"The European Commission is not critical enough against the media laws. Last year, statements made by the OSCE and the Council of Europe were far more explicit and critical," Seemo's Vujovic said, referring to Vienna and Strasbourg's democracy watchdogs.

Cruel and unusual?

Some journalists and media representatives in December held a hunger strike on the doorstep of Hungary's public TV station, MTV.

Among them were Balazs Nagy Navarro and fellow journalist Aranka Szavuly, who went without eating for three weeks and who endured freezing winter cold and MTV blasting high-volume music at them round the clock.

The strike has now ended. But MTV threw them both out of work.

Correction: This story was amended at 1pm Brussels time on 17 January. The original text said the national TV station is called MTVA. It is called MTV. It also said the Hungarian government declined to reply to a query. In fact, it did not receive the query in time

Outrage against Hungary on the rise in EU capital

EU condemnation of Hungary is beginning to gather momentum after its leading party, Fidesz rammed through radical amendments to the constitution, putting democratic standards at risk.

Brussels warns Hungary on constitutional reform

The EU commission has warned Hungary to change parts of its constitution or face legal action amid fears that Prime Minister Orban is undermining the independence of key parts of the state.

EU commission starts legal action against Hungary

The European Commission has launched legal action against Hungary over its new constitution, amid fears that its right-wing leader has too much control of judges and the central bank.

Hungary's climbdown not good enough for MEPs

Hungarian leader Orban told MEPs in Strasbourg that he is happy to fall in line with most of the commission's complaints against his new constitution. But deputies continued to batter him over democratic values.

New EU citizens' appeal targets press freedom

Verdi, a German trade union which triggered the only successful European Citizens' Initiative so far, is throwing its weight behind a new project on press freedom.

MEP blasts Portugal over football whistleblower

Ana Gomes, a socialist MEP from Portugal, has accused national authorities of erring on the side of corruption by detaining a whistleblower who helped expose tax evasion by some of Europe's biggest football stars.

News in Brief

  1. EU plans to restructure eurozone bonds
  2. EU ups US imports in beef deal
  3. Unicef: UK among 'least family-friendly' in Europe
  4. Czech PM: No joint 'V4' candidate in commission race
  5. Johnson tops first round to replace May, three eliminated
  6. Bratislava will host new European Labour Authority
  7. Juncker cautions against further climate goals
  8. Study: Counterfeit medicine is a 'growing threat' in EU

Opinion

A fundamental contradiction in EU drug policy

The knock-on affects from a 'war on drugs' in Europe is creating problems in Albania - and as far afield as Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Bangladesh and the Philippines.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  3. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  5. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  6. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  7. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  8. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody

Latest News

  1. 'Russian sources' targeted EU elections with disinformation
  2. Top EU jobs summit dominates This WEEK
  3. EP parties planning 'coalition agenda' ahead of jobs summit
  4. MEP blasts Portugal over football whistleblower
  5. Catalonia MEPs are a judicial, not political, issue
  6. Meet the lawyer taking the EU migration policy to the ICC
  7. Europe's oil supplies 'at risk' after tanker attacks
  8. EU paths fork for Albania and North Macedonia

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  2. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  5. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  10. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  11. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  12. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us