By EDRi

This article is also available in:
Deutsch: [Das neue ungarische Mediengesetz ermöglicht Zensur | http://www.unwatched.org/node/2500]

On 1 January 2011, a new Hungarian media law entered into force, giving the
government the power to control the Internet, endangering the freedom of
speech and journalism in general.

As Hungary took over the EU Presidency on 6 January 2011, in a context where
there are strong attempts from various EU governments to censor the
Internet, the Hungarian authorities started the year with a new law giving
excessive powers and control to the government over the public media
including Internet content.

According to the newly introduced law, all media must be registered and the
licences may be suspended or withdrawn for breaches.
The text does not distinguish between different types of media – traditional
broadcasters as well as online platforms have to obey the same
standards – and extends the protection against content, ranging from hate
speech to unintentional insult and incitement to hatred.

The law introduces the creation of a strong censorship authority which has
the power to unilaterally judge content material on the basis of broad and
unclearly defined criteria such as the protection of public order or the
appropriate information in relation to public affairs.

Perceived breaching of the law may bring forth fines of thousands of Euro
which will likely lead to media self-censorship, so much than
the text limits the journalists’ capacity of protecting their sources, the
authority having the power to seize documents and files if it deems
necessary (even legally protected data).

The law is largely criticised and opposed by civil liberties organisations,
civil groups, media lawyers and even by other EU governments. Werner Hoyer,
the German deputy foreign minister stated that in his opinion the media law
“does not represent the idea of a union that is built on unity in
diversity,” and added that Hungary should not be allowed to speak on
violations of free speech in Belarus as “the right to speak in the name of
Europe naturally implies a duty to respect internal European norms to be
able to represent them to the outside world in credible fashion.” A
spokesperson for the French Presidency also stated France wanted the
Hungarian media law text to be altered, deeming it “incompatible” with the
idea of freedom of the press.

All the Hungarian parliamentary opposition parties said that they would
submit an appeal to the country’s Constitutional Court.

A joint analysis of the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, the Eötvös Károly
Institute and the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, assessing the method and
pace of the legislative work of the newly elected Hungarian Parliament,
concluded the law violated the principle of the rule of law.

A group of Internet citizens, blackout4hungary, initiated a movement calling
on all Hungarians to turn their websites black starting with 5 January 2010,
as a protest against Internet censorship.

Following a meeting with the EU college of Commissioners on the EU
priorities for the next 6 years, the Hungarian Government seems to have a
softer attitude and Viktor Orban, the Hungarian Prime Minister admitted that
his government needed to ensure that “adverse debate” did not overshadow the
Hungarian EU presidency.

Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso stated for the press that he had
“received reassurances from the (Hungarian) prime minister that the law is
drawn up and will be implemented in full respect of European Union values on
media freedom and relevant EU legislation,” and that the Prime Minister
“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.”

The Commission is now to issue a legal opinion on the matter but no official
date has yet been established.

Websites Black-out as Drastic Internet Censorship is Introduced in Hungary
http://blackout4hungary.net/en/Websites_Black-out_as_Drastic_Internet_Censorship_is_Introduced_in_Hungary.html

The second wave of legislation by Hungary’s new Parliament – Violating the
rule of law (13.12.2010)
http://www.ekint.org/ekint_files/File/hungarian%20ngos%20assessing%20the%20second%20wave%20of%20legislation.pdf

Barroso puts the squeeze on Hungary over media law (6.01.2011)
http://euobserver.com/9/31597/?rk=1

Hungary to change media law if EU deems necessary (7.01.2011)
http://euobserver.com/9/31607/?rk=1

Hungary to Regulate All Media (31.12.2010)
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704543604576053503044587490.html

Neelie Kroes Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the
Digital Agenda Hungary’s new media law Open Hearing on Freedom of the Press
in Hungary European Parliament (11.01.2011)
http://europa.eu/rapid/pressReleasesAction.do?reference=SPEECH/11/6&format=HTML&aged=0&language=EN&guiLanguage=en