Revised Hungarian media legislation continues to limit pluralism

OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatović addressing media at the first OSCE South East Europe Media Conference, Sarajevo, 14 October 2011. Credit: OSCE/V. Pribilović

Vienna, 25 May 2012 – Dunja Mijatović, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media today said that the new Hungarian media legislation can still curb media pluralism and put the media at the risk of political control.

The Parliament adopted a new media package on 24 May 2012, following a Constitutional Court decision in December 2011 which ruled several provisions of the laws unconstitutional.

“I welcome that the revised provisions provide broader protection of sources, annul the ban of certain content from print and online media, and abolish the right of the Media and Communications Commissioner to interfere with editorial decisions in case of complaints. These are important improvements,” said Mijatović. “Unfortunately, other elements that I raised as problematic already in 2010 have not been improved.”

“These include the ways of nomination and appointment of the President and members of the Media Authority and Media Council, and their power over content in the broadcast media, as well as the prospect of very high fines that can lead to self-censorship among journalists,” she stressed. “Key provisions of the legislation are not clearly defined, and the financial and editorial independence of the public broadcasters is not guaranteed.”

Mijatović emphasized that these these concerns were also raised by the Council of Europe in its recent analysis.

In addition, she pointed out that several amendments to the media package were introduced and adopted at short notice without consultation with the stakeholders or the public.

Mijatović noted that rules of frequency tendering, which present the core reqirement of independent regulation, have significantly changed. She argued that the legislation also does not clearly state that the Media Council has the obligation to sign a contract with the winning candidate, even when the winner is confirmed by a court decision.”These amendments could clearly affect the broadcast pluralism, given the lack of clarity in the definitions and procedures stipulated by the new legislation,” underlined Mijatović.

She reminded that all participating States of the OSCE, including Hungary, committed themselves to stregthening media pluralism. “The changes to the Hungarian media law, however, only add to the existing concerns over the curbing of critical or differing views in the country,” Mijatović said, recalling that on 23 May she sent a letter to Laszlo Kover, Speaker of the Hungarian Parliament, asking the Parliamentarians not to adopt the amendments that can harm media pluralism.

Source: OSCE