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State of play of Commission's examination of Hungarian media law

The transcript of the speech given by Neelie Kroes, Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda on the Hungarian media law.

I wish to thank the Civil Liberties Committee for the opportunity to address you, and the members of the Culture Committee who have also been invited, on the state of play of the Commission's examination of the Hungarian media law.

As you know, I wrote to the Hungarian authorities on 23 December to raise specific concerns regarding the compliance of the recently adopted national media rules with the EU Audiovisual and Media Services (AVMS) Directive and, more generally, regarding the respect for the fundamental media freedoms such as freedom of expression. These concerns related notably to the position of media service providers established in other Member States.

Since then, the Commission has been active. I went to Budapest to discuss with the competent minister and other informal contacts are taking place between the Commission services and the Hungarian authorities.

Last Friday, the Hungarian authorities formally notified the legislation to the Commission, in the Hungarian language. We are now looking very carefully at its provisions and we are going to make our legal assessment of the law, in full objectivity. But of course my staff and I have already been examining the question on the basis of the texts published in the Hungarian official journal.

On the basis of our preliminary examination, my staff and I have been in touch with the Hungarian authorities over the weekend and earlier today in order to raise specific points on which the media law does not appear at first sight to be satisfactory. I will set out the Commission's assessment in writing as swiftly as possible.

As you are aware, a large number of commentators have alleged that the Hungarian media law risks jeopardizing fundamental rights in a number of ways:

by requiring registration of all media, including online media such as forums, blogs and so on

by requiring all media to engage in balanced coverage of national and European events

by making the media authority subject to political control through the appointment process.

You are also certainly aware that the legal enforcement powers of the Commission regarding fundamental rights are limited to cases where the Member States act in the sphere of European Union law, specifically when they are implementing European Union law. In my capacity as Commissioner responsible for media policy, I have examined the compliance of the Media Law with the Audiovisual Media Services (or AVMS) Directive. It is because of my competence for media policy, which is intimately linked with freedom of expression, that I represent the Commission for this evening's discussion.

First, the media law would seem to raise a problem under the AVMS Directive because its provisions appear to apply also to media firms established in other Member States, which would be contrary to the “country of origin” principle. The AVMS Directive establishes a single market for broadcasters, including providers of online audiovisual content, based on the country of origin principle. According to this principle, media service providers are in principle subject to the regulations in their country of origin only. The Directive sets very precise conditions for derogations from this principle. I have already orally indicated to my Hungarian counterparts a number of respects in which the media law raises concerns.

Second, the provision of the law on the need to ensure balanced information extends from the area of broadcasting, where such rules are quite common, to on-demand audiovisual media services, including for example a simple video blogger. I have orally indicated concerns about both the clarity of this rule, which may leave too much discretion in individual cases, and about the lack of limiting criteria, which could lead to over-reach and a problem of proportionality in the regulation of media freedom. These issues may also raise concerns under the general Treaty rules on establishment and provision of services, which are applicable to all media.

Third, we have raised concerns about a possibly over-extensive application of rules on media registration, due to the lack of limiting criteria.

We are also continuing to look at the difficult issue of criteria for media authority independence.

Needless to say, the Commission is also verifying the national rules implementing the AVMS Directive in other Member States, and will raise similar concerns where they are justified.

I am fully confident that Hungary will take all the necessary steps to ensure that the new Media Law is implemented in full respect of the European values on media freedom and relevant EU legislation, as well as the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Hungarian Prime Minister has equally made clear that adjustments would be made, should the Commission, after a legal assessment, find that this is not the case for all aspects of the law. I rely on those assurances in my ongoing contacts with the Hungarian authorities. (BBJ)