Hunger strikers defiant in Hungary media protest

Protest camp outside MTV, Budapest, 29 Dec 11
Image caption The protest outside the MTV building is part of a wider freedom of speech campaign

Security guards in Hungary have failed to remove a group of hunger strikers from the main entrance of the MTV state television building.

Five demonstrators, including two MTV employees, have been on hunger strike since 10 December. They say there has been gross interference by pro-government editors in their work.

They have been living on tea and soup, but no solid food.

The protest is part of a wider row about the government's media policy.

This week the two MTV employees, Balazs Nagy Navarro and Aranka Szavuly, were fired by the organisation.

Before dawn on Thursday, the security guards tried to move the encampment, which consists of a tent, chairs and banners.

Supporters, including deputies from the opposition Socialist party, arrived and a verbal agreement was finally brokered with TV chiefs. The protest camp has moved a few metres to one side, to ensure a safe exit from the building in case of an emergency.

"We will stay here until our demands are met," Balazs Nagy Navarro told the BBC in the capital Budapest.

The demands include the sacking of five TV editors who the strikers accuse of political interference in daily news programmes.

One of the editors, Gabor Elo, was sacked before Christmas. He was blamed for an incident on 3 December when the face of a former head of the Supreme Court, Zoltan Lomnici, was edited out of a news report.

"We welcome Gabor Elo's departure, but insist the others leave too," said Mr Navarro.

Klub Radio controversy

Image caption EU neighbours and the US government have voiced concern about Viktor Orban's media policy

Exactly one year after the passing of a controversial media law, both public service and commercial media are back in the headlines.

On 21 December the Media Council, a powerful media oversight body set up by the new legislation, announced that the main anti-government radio station, Klub Radio, had lost its bid to renew its 95.3 FM wavelength, which it has used for the past ten years.

The bid was won by a completely unknown rival, Autoradio, which will take over the frequency in March - unless the legal appeal launched by Klub Radio succeeds.

The subsequent storm has reached as far as Washington.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton mentioned her concerns about several aspects of Fidesz government policy, including the impending closure of Klub Radio, in a letter to Prime Minister Viktor Orban on 23 December, according to the left-wing daily, Nepszabadsag.

The centre-right government's spokesman Peter Szijjarto admitted that the letter from Hillary Clinton had been received, but gave few details of its contents, or of any official response.

During a visit to Hungary last June, Ms Clinton called for "a real commitment to the independence of the judiciary, free press and governmental transparency".

Since then, the current head of the Supreme Court, Andras Baka, has also been removed from his post, after voicing concerns in parliament about changes to the penal code.

Several of his criticisms have been backed by a December ruling of the Constitutional Court, but Mr Baka's dismissal stands.

The spokeswoman of the Media Council, Karola Kiricsi, told reporters that the failure of Klub Radio to win the tender was based purely on objective - including financial - criteria, and that the station had made a "conspicuously weak" proposal.

She also accused critics of the government, and international media organisations, of waging unremitting war on the Council for the past year - attacks which she called "a political provocation".

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