Hungary amends its controversial Media Law

By EDRi · February 23, 2011

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Deutsch: [Ungarn ├╝berarbeitet umstrittenes Mediengesetz |]

As a result of the concern expressed by the European Commission and
following the meetings with the Commission’s experts on 7 and 15 February
2011, the Hungarian authorities have decided to amend their new
controversial media legislation.

The main issues of concern were related to four issues:

1. The disproportionate application of rules on balanced information due to
the lack of limiting criteria, which was considered a breach of the
Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMS), the EU Treaty rules on the
establishment and provision of services and of Article 11 of the EU Charter
of Fundamental Rights concerning the fundamental freedom of expression and
information. The amendment brought by the Hungarian government is that
requirements regarding balanced information will be limited to broadcasting,
being no longer applied for on-demand media services.

2. The application of fines to broadcasters legally established and
authorised in other Member States which could breach the “country of origin”
principle established by the AVMS Directive, according to which, audiovisual
media service providers are subject to the regulations in their country of
origin only. The Hungarian authorities agreed to amend this by removing the
ability to fine legally established broadcasters in other EU countries.

3. The rules on registration and authorisation of media service providers
which apply to on-demand media services, press products and ancillary media
services could imply that they are required to register before they are
allowed to provide services in Hungary and are thus subject to an
authorisation scheme. These provisions could create an unjustified
restriction of the Treaty rules on freedom of establishment.

The amendment agreed upon clarifies that on-demand audiovisual media service
providers, media product publishers and ancillary media service providers
would have to register within 60 days after having begun providing
their services, meaning that these providers established in Hungary
and in other Member States would no longer be subject to prior authorisation
by the Hungarian authorities.

4. The law dictated that media content may not “cause offence”, even by
implication, to individuals, minorities or majorities and which apply to all
media content providers, including those established in other EU countries.
These provisions have been limited, for all media content providers, to
situations of incitement to hatred or discrimination.

“I am very pleased that the Hungarian authorities have agreed to amend their
Media Law to ensure that it complies with the aspects of EU law that we have
raised, including the Charter of Fundamental Rights”, stated Neelie Kroes,
EC Vice-President and European Digital Agenda Commissioner who added that
the European Commission will continue to closely monitor the adoption and
implementation of the amendments.

However, the opponents of the Hungarian media law are still sceptical and
the debate in the European Parliament on 16 February also raised issues
that had not been addressed by of the Hungarian authorities, such as the
political control over the country’s media authority.

According to Martin Schulz EMP (Germany), the Socialists & Democrats group
leader, “At first glance, a series of changes, some of technical nature have
taken place. But other important matters, such as the composition of Media
Council, are outstanding. (…) We still need to analyse the text carefully.
Media freedom is an issue of central importance to the S&D group and we will
do everything in our power to protect it.”

During the meeting of the European Parliament’s group leaders (with
exception of the EPP) on 17 February, the decision was taken to postpone the
vote on the Hungarian media law but not withdraw a resolution on the matter.

“Whilst it is a positive sign that the Hungarian Government have indicated a
willingness to modify the four areas of concern outlined by the Commission,
Liberals and Democrats remain concerned about other aspects of the Hungarian
law which place huge powers of censorship in the hands of governing party
appointees and reveal a lack of adequate protection for journalists’ sources
as well as insufficient provision for judicial review or appeal,” said
Renate Weber (PNL, Romania) ALDE coordinator in the Civil Liberties
committee and spokesperson on the Hungarian media law who added that the
Hungarian Government “should consider a more fundamental overhaul of the law
in line with the recommendations of the OSCE.”

Media: Commission Vice-President Kroes welcomes amendments to Hungarian
Media Law (16.02.2011)

Brussels happy with Hungary’s pledges on media law (17.02.2011)

Press Release Changes by Hungarian Parliament to media law must be closely
monitored (17.02.2011)

Hungarian media law: Proposed amendments ignore core provisions restricting
media freedom (16.02.2011)

EDRi-gram: EU institutions want clarifications form Hungary on its media
legislation (26.01.2011)