Friday

18th Jan 2019

Opinion

Hungary’s insidious media clampdown

  • Orban's government is creating a hostile environment for journalists (Photo: Klara Zalan)

It started with a May 25 Constitutional Court decision that website operators are responsible for any comments to blog posts or news commentary that may violate the media law.

The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, a leading human rights organization, said the court decision has serious implications for free speech, public debate and internet freedom in the country. Blogs and online news portals may decide to restrict public comment for fear of being hit with high fines by a politically appointed Media Council.

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 early June, the Supreme Court held that ATV, a TV station critical of the government, had violated the 2010 media law’s restrictions on commentary by describing the far-right party Jobbik as “far-right” in a news cast.

The court’s rationale was that as Jobbik doesn’t call itself a “far-right party,” referring to it as such expresses an opinion and may leave viewers with a negative impression. Given Jobbik’s blatant anti-Roma and anti-Semitic agenda, “far right” seems like fair comment that courts ought to protect.

In early June, journalists and media freedom activists took to the streets to protest the sacking of the editor-in-chief of Origo, an online news-site critical of the government. Origo cited restructuring and reorganisation as the reason for the firing.

But the dismissal followed Origo’s publication of a story on the alleged misuse of public funds by the state secretary at the Prime Minister’s Office.

Concerns that the sacking might be linked to the story were heightened by the close links between Magyar Telekom, the owner of Origo, and the government. Another 30 journalists resigned from Origo to protest the dismissal.

Then on June 11 the government used its supermajority in Hungary’s single-chamber parliament to pass a controversial advertising tax on media. The law provides for progressive taxation in relation to ad

revenue, with a 40 percent tax on revenue above 20 billion HUF. It will primarily hit the German-owned commercial broadcaster RTL Klub,viewed as one of the last remaining big independent TV channels in

Hungary.

In an unprecedented move, media companies from all sides of the political spectrum condemned the legislation, running blank newspaper pages and halting broadcasts in protest.

It’s not the first time the media have come under attack in Hungary.

Soon after being elected for its first term in 2010, the Fidesz administration amended media laws to ensure it controlled appointments to the main media regulator, the Media Council, and introduced vague

content restrictions with the possibility of high fines, all of which have had a chilling effect on press freedom and triggered self-censorship.

In the past four years, the government has made a sport of creating a hostile and difficult environment for journalists. In 2011 and 2012,in three waves of dismissals, the head of the state broadcaster, closely linked to the government, fired over 1,000 people at the state broadcaster MTVA after a merger.

While the stated justification was the merger, at least some of those who lost their jobs were people who were unwilling to toe the party line.

From 2011 to 2013, the Media Council stubbornly refused to renew the frequency of a critical independent radio station, Klubradio, despite six court rulings in its favor. Current and former journalists employed by media outlets close to the government have complained of editorial interference.

As an EU member state, Hungary is obliged to respect the union’s core values of democracy, freedom and respect for human rights, in addition to other relevant standards, such as those set by the European

Convention on Human Rights to which it is a party.

While both Strasbourg and Brussels did make some limited interventions during the Hungarian’s government previous term, it appears that the institutional resolve of both the EU and the Council of Europe has since faltered, with both opting to regard matters as solved.

Well they clearly aren’t.

It’s high time for the EU and the Council of Europe to wake up and recognise that allowing Hungary to flout fundamental principles undermines not only the rights of Hungarian citizens but also risks bringing into question the credibility of these institutions themselves.

The writer is the Balkans and Eastern Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch

US diplomat lashes out at Hungary's Orban

Victoria Nuland, the US' top diplomat on Europe, has indirectly criticised Hungarian leader Viktor Orban for the “cancer” of “democratic backsliding”.

On Morocco, will the EU ignore its own court?

If the European parliament votes in favour of the new Morocco agreement without knowing that it complies with the European Court of Justice judgement, how can it demand that other countries respect international law and their own courts?

Trump's wall vs Europe's sea

Though we would never admit it, the only difference between Trump and the EU is we don't need a wall - because we're 'fortunate' enough to have the Mediterranean.

News in Brief

  1. Another referendum 'would take a year', Downing St says
  2. 82-year old Berlusconi to run in EU elections
  3. EU parliament votes to triple funds for democracy promotion
  4. EU parliament backs linking budget payments to rule of law
  5. Verhofstadt voted for Draghi amendment 'by mistake'
  6. 'Plan B' Brexit vote in UK parliament set for 29 January
  7. Verhofstadt wanted Draghi out of G30 group
  8. Putin heads to Serbia amid warnings against West

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General

Latest News

  1. Brexit delay 'reasonable', as May tries cross-party talks
  2. MEPs allow Draghi's membership of secretive bank group
  3. EU parliament backs Morocco deal despite row
  4. Barnier open to 'future relations' talks if UK red lines shift
  5. German spies to monitor far-right AfD party
  6. On Morocco, will the EU ignore its own court?
  7. UK parliament rejects May's Brexit deal in historic defeat
  8. EU suggests majority vote on digital tax by 2025

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  2. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  3. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  5. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  6. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  8. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  10. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us