Europe

EU-Hungary row over media law cools down

  • 2 February 2011
  • From the section Europe
Protest against media law in Budapest, 27 Jan 11
Image caption Several demonstrations have been held in Budapest against the media law

The threat of EU legal action against Hungary has receded after Budapest gave assurances that it would amend its controversial media law if need be.

The row over the new law, which took effect on 1 January, soured the start of Hungary's six-month EU presidency.

The law should be made compliant with EU norms "within weeks rather than months", European Commission spokesman Jonathan Todd said.

Critics say the law would empower the authorities to curb freedom of speech.

Last month the EU Digital Affairs Commissioner, Neelie Kroes, demanded "clarification" of certain aspects of the law.

She raised concerns about: the law's requirements for "balanced coverage"; the extension of parts of the law to media registered outside Hungary; the compulsory registration process for media outlets.

Hungary in EU storm

Some EU politicians and human rights activists have also voiced fears that Hungary's new media authority, responsible for scrutinising media output, will pursue the ruling centre-right Fidesz party's agenda.

The authority can impose fines on media organisations deemed to have violated the new law.

The Council of Europe, a top human rights watchdog, has offered to help Hungary bring the law into line with agreed European standards on human rights.

The Council's Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, criticised Hungary's "establishment of a politically unbalanced regulatory machinery with disproportionate powers and lack of full judicial supervision".

He said the new provisions would increase the risk of self-censorship among journalists.

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban got a rough ride in the European Parliament last month when some MEPs attacked the media law, on the day he was outlining Hungary's agenda for EU business.

There have also been demonstrations against the law in Budapest.

Hungary sent a translated text of the law to legal experts in Brussels for examination.

Mr Todd said the Commission was eager to resolve the problems raised as soon as possible.

In a letter to Commissioner Kroes, Hungary's Deputy Prime Minister Tibor Navracsics said Budapest would ensure that the media law "is in full compliance with Union law requirements".

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