Wednesday

20th Mar 2019

Hungarian journalists wary despite EU tweaks to media law

The EU commission on Wednesday (16 February) buried the hatchet with Hungary over its highly disputed media law, after Budapest agreed to alter some of the provisions in breach of EU legislation. But local journalists are sceptical that the general attitude of treating media as "the enemy" will change.

"I am very pleased that the Hungarian authorities have agreed to amend their media law to ensure that it complies with the aspects of EU law that we have raised, including the Charter of Fundamental Rights", Neelie Kroes, the EU commissioner in charge of telecoms said in a press statement.

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  • The Hungarian government still wants to 'regulate' media content (Photo: GiantsFanatic)

She added that Brussels will continue to "work closely" with the Hungarian government in ensuring that all the promises are kept and to monitor how the changes are applied.

Under the proposed changes, the Hungarian government will repeal some of the most controversial measures which came into force on 1 January, causing a stir among press freedom campaigners and EU governments just as Budapest took over the rotating EU presidency.

Bloggers will no longer have to register and online videos, personal posts or tweets will not be subject to a "balanced information" requirement which enables a newly formed Media Council to issue scathing fines.

The provision restricting media content on the basis of not "causing offence" to individuals, minorities or majorities is also to be narrowed down to not "discriminating" against any group or not inciting to hatred.

Journalists in Budapest are less enthusiastic than Ms Kroes about their government's promises, however.

"These are some positive changes, but they remain cosmetic," said Attila Mong, a popular radio host who is still on suspension from the public broadcaster for holding a minute of silence the day after the media law passed. "The general approach of the law will not change ... which is that media is something to limit, curb and regulate, because it is the 'enemy'."

In a speech in parliament earlier this week, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban seemed confident about the rights of his super-majority government to impose a new vision on the country's journalists. "The government has beaten back this attack," he said in reference to criticism from the EU commission. "We do not accept any countries or country groupings as our superiors. Brussels is not Moscow [in Soviet times]."

Reporters without Borders also noted that the proposed changes to the law are a good step, but remained cautious about the "final text" to be drafted by the Hungarian government in the next two weeks.

"The question still remains why there is this idea that we have to organise by law such tricky concepts as balance, proportionality, equity," Olivier Basille, the group's pointman in Brussels told this website. "This is not a good signal in the EU and neither it is for our neighbourhood and the values we want to project," the NGO representative said.

The Hungarian media law has also hit a sensitive chord in the US administration.

Washington's envoy to the EU, William Kennard, himself a former telecoms chief, on Wednesday told reporters in Brussels: "I think it's reprehensible. I really do."

"I applaud the EU for highlighting this problem and making clear that this is inconsistent with what we've come to appreciate as European values and freedom of expression," he added.

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