Saturday

31st Oct 2020

Hungarian PM: EU cannot tell us 'what to do' on media law

  • Orban: 'We will never accept any discrimination - we will only accept changes if they occur in other states' (Photo: europeanpeoplesparty)

Recent criticism of Hungary's new media law is an "insult", the country's prime minister, Viktor Orban, has said, insisting that other EU member states do not have the right to tell his government "what to do".

Speaking to journalists in Budapest on Thursday (6 January) ahead of an official ceremony to mark Hungary's takeover of the EU presidency, Mr Orban conceded that alterations to the controversial media law could be possible, but only if accompanied by similar changes in other EU member countries.

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"We have assembled a media law from other states," the leader of the governing Fidesz-led alliance of centre-right parties said. "We will never accept any discrimination - we will only accept changes if they occur in other states."

European politicians, notably from France and Germany, have attacked the establishment of a new media authority in the central European state in recent days, arguing it will restrict press freedom.

The new body, made up of government appointees, will be able to impose fines of up to €720,000 for news deemed to be offensive to "human dignity" or to be unbalanced, and will also be able to force journalists to reveal their sources in certain situations, critics say.

Budapest denies the new law contravenes EU rules. But European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has said he will seek clarifications when he meets with the Hungarian government on Friday.

"There is not one single legal solution [in the Hungarian law] that can not be found in other EU countries," said Mr Orban, adding that it was "out of the question" that the commission would rule against Hungary and not France and Germany as well.

Olivier Basille, chief EU representative with Reporters Without Borders, recently told this website that Hungary's new media law was just the latest example of a wider European clampdown on press freedom, pointing to other initiatives in Slovakia and Ireland.

Economy

As governments scramble to increase public revenues, Budapest has also been forced onto the defensive over a range of crisis taxes which some critics say will hit foreign companies hardest.

Grumbling from the IMF and the European Central Bank has added to the picture of international disquiet over Mr Orban's administration.

The centre-right prime minister "firmly rejected" accusations of economic nationalism, however. "Export success only comes if you have well-functioning foreign companies in the economy," he said.

"I hate taxes," he insisted. "I cannot tax manufacturing as it will hit competitiveness. So we are not levying taxes there. Services and trade, yes."

He conceded the Hungarian presidency could well do without all the recent controversies.

"I agree this is a bad start [to the EU presidency]. Who could want it to start like this?" Mr Orban said.

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