Tuesday

12th Nov 2019

Orban meets barrage of MEP criticism over media law

  • MEPs showed their disapproval with banners and by putting sticky tape on their mouths (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban was met with an unprecedentedly hostile welcome for an incoming EU presidency in the European Parliament on Wednesday (19 January), with MEPs venting strong criticism against Budapest's new media law.

Scheduled as a discussion on Hungary's presidency priorities for the next six months, the controversial media law dominated discussion and prompted a number of MEPs to display white banners with the single word 'censored'.

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

In his introductory speech Mr Orban repeated the government's willingness to change the law if a European Commission legal opinion finds it to be at fault, but Socialist, Liberal and Green group leaders called for a complete scrapping of the legislation.

Introduced at the start of this month, the contentious act establishes a media council to ensure 'balanced' reporting, and requires all media types to be registered, including online media such as forums and blogs.

"The hour is grave," Socialist leader Martin Schultz said, singling out the media council's membership of government appointees as unacceptable.

Others joined in. "The aim of media governance is not to guarantee 'proper' and 'adequate' information," said Liberal leader Guy Verhofstadt. "The aim is to uphold pluralism and to guarantee that any initiative in media can be developed."

The loudest criticism came from Green group leader Daniel Cohn-Bendit. "Today Mr Orban you are on the path of becoming a European Chavez, a national populist," he said, referring to Venezuela's controversial president Hugo Chavez.

"Do you think Mr Nixon got balanced information? Or Mr Bush on Abu Ghraib? Do you think Mr Berlusconi thinks research done on his life amounts to balanced information? No, information is to be a gadfly to politicians. That's why your law does not correspond with the values of the European Union."

The Hungarian government has vigorously defended the new media law since it came to public attention late last year, arguing it is vital to replace its predecessor which was designed under the country's former Communist regime.

The law must be judged on its implementation, insists Budapest, but a range of group's including the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) have blasted it a priori as restricting Hungarian press freedom.

Brussels is currently undertaking a legal review on whether the media act contravenes EU law, a judgement Mr Orban says he will follow, provided it is scrupulously objective and treats Hungary like any other EU member state.

Analysts suggest Brussels' room for manoeuvre is limited, but commission president Jose Manuel Barroso has persistently talked up the "political" need for alterations, as well as potential legal reasons. "You are certainly aware that the legal enforcement powers of the commission regarding fundamental rights are limited to cases where the member states act in the sphere of EU law," EU commissioner with responsibility for media policy, Neelie Kroes, told a committee of MEPs on monday night.

Recent pronouncements suggest the commission may demand changes on the grounds that single market rules have been broken, including the EU's Audiovisual and Media Services (AVMS) Directive.

Responding to MEP criticisms, Mr Orban said many of their interventions had been based on "mistakes" and misunderstandings on the Hungarian legislation. "You can not go on offending the Hungarian people in this way," he said, prompting a fresh outcry against "populist rhetoric" from the anti-media-law euro deputies.

Opinion

Viktor Orban - disliked and misunderstood

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is one of Europe's most disliked politicians, writes Nick Thorpe, but he is also one of its most misunderstood.

New commissioners clear 'conflict of interests' hurdle

The parliament's legal affairs committee narrowly gave the green light to France's Thierry Breton - with some MEPs critical of the candidate's links to IT firm Atos. Meanwhile, Brussels still waits for a UK commissioner.

Opinion

Israeli labelling ruling lets consumers make choice

Beyond the Israel-specific dimension of this decision, the EU court places ethics back at the heart of European consumer choices and reminds us that our daily, mundane purchases may have considerable and unforeseen geopolitical implications, particularly as regards occupied territories.

Far-right Vox celebrates, as Spain left without majority

Although the governing Socialists Party (PSOE) won the most seats at Sunday's elections, the political deadlock continues with a deeply-fragmented scenario, in which the far-right Vox party is in a strong position while the centre has become irrelevant.

News in Brief

  1. Three new commissioner-designates pass legal scrutiny
  2. ECJ: EU countries must label Israeli settlement products
  3. Belgian asylum centre set on fire
  4. Xi Jingping in Athens promises new investment
  5. Farage's Brexit Party will not stand in Tory-held seats
  6. British founder of Syrian 'White Helmets' found dead
  7. Eight member states ask for EU aviation tax
  8. EU allocates €55m humanitarian aid to Sudan

Agenda

New hearings for the von der Leyen commission This WEEK

Next week will see a new round of commissioner hearings for the latest candidates from France, Hungary and Romania in the European Parliament, while crucial elections take place in Romania and Spain.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture
  3. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  4. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  5. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  7. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  11. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work

Latest News

  1. Pro-Israeli group scores own goal on EU retail labels
  2. New commissioners clear 'conflict of interests' hurdle
  3. Israeli labelling ruling lets consumers make choice
  4. What does Macron really want on Western Balkans?
  5. Far-right Vox celebrates, as Spain left without majority
  6. EU 'climate bank' won't rule out carbon capture
  7. New hearings for the von der Leyen commission This WEEK
  8. Bosnia wants explanation for Macron's 'time-bomb' remark

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  2. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  3. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  4. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  9. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  10. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us