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17th Apr 2021

EU telecoms chief slams Hungarian media law

  • Neelie Kroes says the Hungarian media law is undemocratic (Photo: European Commission)

EU telecommunications commissioner Neelie Kroes on Tuesday (11 January) joined the chorus of voices speaking out against the Hungary's new media law, after a group of intellectuals led by former Czech President Vaclav Havel wrote an open letter condemning the legislation.

"The recently adopted Hungarian Media Act raises specific concerns regarding its compliance with the EU Audiovisual and Media Services (AVMS) Directive and, more generally, regarding the respect for the fundamental media freedoms such as freedom of expression and media pluralism," Ms Kroes said during a special hearing in the European Parliament.

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Ms Kroes said the law is jeopardising fundamental rights by requiring registration of all media, including blogs and forums, obliging them to "engage in balanced coverage of national and European events" and by making the Media Authority subject to political control.

As for compliance with EU audiovisual rules, the Hungarian law "seems to raise a problem ... because its provisions appear to apply also to media firms established in other member states, which would be contrary to the 'country of origin' principle."

Ms Kroes recalled the statements made last week by Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who admitted the law may be altered if the commission finds it is in breach of EU legislation.

"I am fully confident that Hungary, being a democratic country, will take all the necessary steps to ensure that the new media law is implemented in full respect of European values in media freedom and relevant EU legislation," she said.

Her comments add to the plethora of critical voices which have so far been brushed off by the centre-right government in Budapest, proud of its super-majority in the parliament allowing it to push through laws with little opposition and even envisage a constitutional change.

The EU on Friday (7 January) received an open letter slamming the law signed by 70 former statesmen and human rights activists including former Czech president Vaclav Havel, former Hungarian president Arpad Goencz, German dissident and writer Lutz Rathenow and Polish newspaper editor Adam Michnik.

"Just 20 years after Communism collapsed, Hungary's government, though elected democratically, is misusing its legislative majority to methodically dismantle democracy's checks and balances, to remove constitutional constraints, and to subordinate to the will of the ruling party all branches of power, independent institutions and the media," the personalities wrote.

On Monday, the head of EU's economic and social committee - a consultative body - Staffan Nilsson, called on the EU and the Hungarian government to involve press and publishers' associations in the assessment and debate of media freedom in Hungary.

"Design and enforcement of any media regulatory framework needs to comply with democratic standards in the field of media system organization and governance," Mr Nilsson said in a statement.

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