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Hungary amends controversial media law

Parliament has amended the government's controversial media law to meet EU requirements. Although the EU said it is satisfied with the changes, there are still concerns that the revisions actually constitute concealed restrictions on the operation of the media.

The latest criticism comes after the Commission received the government’s amendments and Kroes stated that she was “very pleased” with the changes proposed and now ratified.

The Hungarian government reached an agreement with the European Commission on the amendments on the media law earlier, after it found that the act does not comply with EU law. Previously, the media act was strongly criticized by both Hungarian and foreign organizations for being undemocratic.

In the package, government officials decided that on-demand media services would not be obliged to follow requirements regarding balanced information, as the European Commission found this to be disproportionate. The government stated it will not fine broadcasters in other EU states for infringing on the Hungarian media law’s regulations concerning the provocation of hatred. It decided to allow on-demand audiovisual services from Hungary and other EU states to operate without prior authorization. Lastly, officials made amendments to limit the ban on instances of hatred and/or discrimination.

But opponents, like civil rights organization TASz expressed grave concerns about the amendments in a letter written to EU Commissioner Neelie Kroes. According to TASz, Hungary’s media law is still in conflict with European directives and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. Also, some new points the TASz finds even more restrictive on the freedom of the press than the earlier version of the law.

As an example, TASz mentions the obligation of linear media services to broadcast “balanced coverage” that, according to the amendment, should be defined by an act of Parliament “in accordance with the requirements of proportionality and a democratic public opinion”. This increases the state’s interference with the media, TASz wrote.

TASz program manager Éva Simon urged Kroes to continue talks on the media rules and to evaluate the entirety of the legislation, including sanctions, regulatory provisions, media pluralism and content requirements affecting all media. As she pointed out, there still remain plenty of areas that have been unaddressed and are in violation of pertinent EU liberties.