Proposed Hungarian Media Law Would Threaten Freedom

“[…] The law, which is expected to be passed shortly, would provide the National Media and Communications Authority’s (NMHH) Media Council with the authority to impose fines on private newspapers, websites, broadcasters, and other content providers that have violated press rules on “balanced” coverage as well as immoral reporting (such as content involving sex, violence, and alcohol). Fines could be as much as $934,000 for radio and television stations, $120,000 for daily newspapers and online news outlets, and approximately $47,000 for weeklies. Outlets could also be suspended or shut down. The new law, in essence, subjects private media organizations to the rules and regulations that govern public and state-run media and imposes potentially severe penalties for content-related violations.

“This legislation, combined with other troubling moves against the media, will be a major setback for press freedom in Hungary,” said Karin Karlekar, Managing Editor of Freedom House’s annual Freedom of the Press index. “Of particular concern is the wording of the supposed ‘violations’ which is very is broad, creating an environment conducive to significant misuse, especially given the extremely polarized political environment in the country.” […]

Prime Minister Viktor Orban, the leader of the ruling Fidesz party, appointed a former Fidesz politician as the director of the NMHH’s Media Council for a nine-year term, and the remaining four seats on the Council were filled by Fidesz supporters following a parliamentary vote in October. The new Media Council has been given enhanced regulatory powers and considerable control over all forms of media. In November, additional legislation was adopted that forces journalists to reveal their sources in articles concerning national security or public safety issues. […]

Hungary is ranked Free in Freedom in the World 2010, Freedom House’s survey of political rights and civil liberties, and Free in Freedom of the Press 2010.”