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Media law amendments presented to Parliament but still criticized

Hungary’s government has presented its proposal for the modification of the media law. However, doubts about its respect of the freedom of the press continue to persist.

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.

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

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

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.

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.