22nd Feb 2019

Hungary to change media law if EU deems necessary

The Hungarian government has said it is willing to change a controversial new media law if a legal opinion currently being prepared by the European Commission deems it necessary.

Budapest insists the move will not be required, but appeared to strike a more conciliatory tone on Friday (7 January) than earlier in the week after concerns over the new media authority threatened to overshadow the start of Hungary's tenure as the EU's rotating presidency.

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  • News groups could be given fines of up to €720,000 under Hungary's new media law (Photo: GiantsFanatic)

The announcement came after the college of EU commissioners travelled to Budapest to discuss priorities for the upcoming six months, with the main agenda to be dominated by Europe's ongoing fiscal crisis.

Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told a press conference after the meeting that the office of the EU presidency carried "great responsibility", while Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban conceded that his government needs to work harder to ensure that "adverse debate" did not overshadow the presidency.

"I have received reassurances from the [Hungarian] prime minister that the law is drawn up and will be implemented in full respect of European Union values on media freedom and relevant EU legislation," Mr Barroso told journalists.

"The prime minister equally made clear that adjustments would be made, should the commission, after a legal assessment, find that this is not the case for all aspects of the law."

The Hungarian government has sent a copy of the media legislation to the commission for examination. Criticis in recent weeks have argued that the 194-page-long legal text hands excessive powers to a new national media authority. The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) is among the groups to have cried foul.

Budapest insists this is not the case however, defending the authority's powers to hand out large fines as necessary to defend "human dignity" in order to protect future generations.

The reality television show Big Brother has in the past proved controversial in Hungary, as has coverage of the death of Hungarian footballer Mizlos Feher, whose cardiac arrest during a match was broadcast live on television.

Prime Minister Orban said the commission's legal study must be objective and must leave politics aside, predicting that the EU executive would come forward with a "reassuring opinion" which says that the "act is in line of euroepan laws".

"If there is no common sense and reasonable reasons – then no changes," he said emphatically.

Hungary had previously insisted that any change to the country's new media law must also be accompanied by similar alterations to those seen in other countries, but no mention of this was made on Friday.

"I am sure that the legal opinion formed will be one that does not discrimate against hungary," said Mr Orban. He added that his administration would closely monitor the implementation of the new law.

Earlier on Friday Hungarian president Pal Schmitt, seen as an ally to Mr Orban's conservative Fidesz party, said he did not plan to raise any objections to the media authority.

A date for the commission's legal opinion has not yet been given.

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