Hungary has enacted draconian media laws that have been widely criticized, casting a shadow over The Current EU Presidency of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. The laws effectively give full control over the media to the government, which can impose fines for any alleged crime. The new laws will be vague and subject to interpretation.
One of the first victims of the new laws was radio host Attila Mong, whose personal protest included a minute’s silence in his popular show “180 Minutes.” Mong was immediately removed from office and an internal disciplinary investigation is under way. Npr.org said Mong said: “It was a matter of journalistic conscience for me. I talked to my editor, and we decided we didn’t want young reporters to ask 15 years from now, “Were you there, what did you do?” “I think it’s public journalism when something serious happens, and maybe you choose unusual and formal decisions. Notice what to do.”
These laws have caused such concern that the European Commission has launched an investigation. But the legal head of the Media Council, Gyorgy Oxko, defended the law, saying the country’s post-communist media should be limited. However, he said they would review the European Commission’s findings if it was found that the laws violated international and democratic standards. Oddly enough, Oxko said, “This “unlimited freedom of the press” has also brought negative results.”
Other Hungarian officials also defended the laws, but with more aggression than Oxko showed. State Department Secretary Jolt Nemet wrote in a blog post that “cannot escape the assumption that foreign criticism is more directed at certain economic measures”, i.e. special “anti-crisis taxes” imposed on energy, telecommunications and telecommunications, as well as on retail trade. Taxes were levied to cover the budget deficit. They will be in effect for the next three years.
Hungarian Deputy Prime Minister Tibor Navracic said the criticisms reflected the Western world’s distrust of Central and Eastern European democracy.
Meanwhile, Hungarian opposition lawmaker and former EU commissioner Laszlo Kovacs suggests that media laws are just the tip of the iceberg, as Orban also appears to be considering rewriting the constitution to meet the political needs of himself and the Fidesz party. Kovacs cites the nationalization of some pension funds as an example. The Constitutional Court opposed the decision, so the party simply drafted a bill limiting the court’s jurisdiction.
While the world has held its breath while the EU investigates, desperately hoping that any recommendations will be taken seriously by Orban and the ruling party. Otherwise, it could be another blow to global media freedom.