Thursday, 20 January 2011

More on Hungary's new media laws: from Article 19

A very critical piece by Article 19, who are:

"an independent human rights organisation that works around the world to protect and promote the right to freedom of expression. It takes its name from Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees free speech."

They don't have a hang-up about Hungary, it's just that they include Hungary among concerns like Iraq, Ukraine, Kenya and Belarus. Nor do they ignore matters UK and the USA.

It is a comprehensive article complete with nine specific calls to the Hungarian government and four to the European Commission. It gives some background:

The ruling coalition of Fidesz and the Christian Democratic People’s Party, with an absolute majority of two thirds of all seats in Parliament, immediately took full control over the legislative agenda. For the last six months, it amended more than fifty laws and changed the Constitution six times. To avoid public control over its actions, the ruling coalition removed important constitutional checks and balances. For instance, the parliamentary majority became in charge of the appointment of the constitutional judges while the Prime Minister used his powers to replace the head of Equal Treatment Agency, and thus removed its independence. Legislative amendments also permitted the coalition to replace the members the National Election Committee and gave powers to ministers to dismiss civil servants
without justification. The rapid legislative reforms have been carried out without prior consultation with the public and the opposition.

and gets to the heart of the problem,

...very restrictive content requirements for broadcasting, print and online media and a highly centralised media regulatory authority to police them for unbalanced or immoral reporting. The new authority is designed to grant permission to traditional and new media to operate. The authority is not independent as its head is appointed by the Prime Minister. The Press and Media law makes it very difficult for media and journalists to protect their sources which will impede their capacity to investigate and inform. In addition they are threatened by high fines aiming to encourage self-censorship..

On the actual fines:

ARTICLE 19 finds the fines set for violations of new media laws excessively harsh. The fines for "unbalanced reporting" by radio and TV broadcasters can be as much as 200 million
forints (about €700,000). Other maximum fines can be up to 25 million forints (€90,000) for daily national newspapers and websites and 10 million forints (€36,000) for weeklies. Private persons can be fined up to two million forints (€7,250).

Noting that international law requires that sanctions be proportionate, ARTICLE 19 notes that the maximum fines are likely to bankrupt even big national newspapers and television station. Likewise, the maximum fines for private persons are disproportionately high in view of the average wage in Hungary. The high fines are likely to have a serious chilling effect on free expression..

Dr Agnès Callamard, the Executive Director of ARTICLE 19 calls for the Hungarian authorities to:

“take seriously their obligations under international law and ensure that the media can enjoy fully their rights. The EU institutions and member states have responsibility to ensure that the respect of the democratic values is immediately restored including by undertaking the measures provided by Article 7 of the Treaty of Lisbon ad suspending Hungary of certain voting rights”.

The full text of the article can be read here, and is, reproduced in part on the website of the Free Word Centre.


Gwil W said...

EU law? Another toothless tiger?

George S said...

I am hoping that the gums may nibble on this long enough to cause some severe discomfort at least.

Gwil W said...

Yesterday I saw a new film at the cinema. It's a combined effort from Elisabeth Scharang and goes under the title 'Vielleicht in einem anderen leben" (Perhaps in another life). One of the joint production companies is possibly Hungarian; it is called 'Mythberg Films Budapest'. The story concerns the predicatable fate of 20 Hungarian Jews held in a barn in Austria towards the end of the World War II. There's a website at
I hope that this film is widely distributed and shown in 2011 throughout the EU and I include the UK in this.
In Austria a recent survey showed that 42% of young people support the far-right FPÖ, and 10% the far-right ex-Haider splinter group the BZÖ. In other words 52% of young Austrians support the far right. The situation in neighbouring Hungary is probably even worse.