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Journalists fired over ongoing hunger strike

(IPI/IFEX) - VIENNA, 28 Dec. 2011 - Two editors with Hungarian state television have been fired over their ongoing hunger strike in protest against government manipulation of news content.

AP reported today that public broadcaster MTV fired Balazs Nagy Navarro and Aranka Szavuly after labelling their fast - which began on 10 December and during which they are consuming only liquids - illegal and a "provocation" to their employer.

The strike followed a report one week earlier in which the face of former chief judge Zoltan Lomnici was pixellated in reports on the state-run broadcaster and on Duna Televisi. The journalists said the move gave viewers the impression that Lomnici, a critic of the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, was a dubious character.

Nagy Navarro told AP that one other state media employee and three activists were currently taking part in the strike. He said the dismissals were "shameful and trample on legal security".

International Press Institute (IPI) Executive Director Alison Bethel McKenzie said: "While we were encouraged earlier this month when Hungary's Constitutional Court declared portions of the country's onerous new media laws unconstitutional, the news of these firings starkly underscores the ongoing threat to independent media in the country. IPI and its subsidiary, the South and East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), call on the Hungarian government to allow the media to do their job without political interference."

Nagy Navarro and Szavuly's firings follow a decision last week by Hungary's Media Council not to reallocate a radio frequency to Klubradio, the country's only national opposition radio station. The frequency was instead put out to bid, which was won by an unknown station called Autoradio, which observers said they expected to be less critical. Klubradio must surrender the frequency in March.

Hungary has drawn significant negative attention this year with its implementation of new media laws that critics alleged are intended to muzzle the media. Parliament narrowed the laws' scope earlier this year, but international observers continued to warn that they could still be misused to curb alternative and differing voices.

Criticism of Orban increased after parliamentarians from his Fidesz party, which holds two thirds of seats in Parliament, approved a new Constitution that takes effect on 1 January. Observers have charged that the constitutional changes remove checks on the government's power and place virtually all power in Fidesz's hands.

A spokesperson for the Hungarian government confirmed yesterday that Orban had received a letter from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressing concern over the state of Hungary's democracy. Hungarian daily Nepszabadsag previously reported that Clinton, in a letter dated 23 December, cited the Hungarian government's weakening of checks and balances, its overhaul of the judiciary, and its limits on freedom of religion and freedom of the press.
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