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ARTICLE 19 issues statement on controversial new media laws

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - 17 January 2011 - In today's statement, "Hungary: Controversial New Media Laws Cast Shadow on Presidency", ARTICLE 19 outlines key freedom of expression concerns arising from the package of new media laws adopted in 2010 in Hungary and calls on the Hungarian Government to meet its international obligations to respect freedom of expression. We also call on the EU to review whether the actions of the Hungarian Government fall within the scope of Article 7 of the Lisbon treaty and whether there is a clear risk of a serious breach by the Hungarian Government of the EU values, such as respect for freedom, democracy and human rights.

In the statement, ARTICLE 19 reviews the changes of the media legal framework which the Hungarian Parliament, dominated by the Fidesz Party, undertook after taking power in 2010 and points to the key shortfalls in various laws with international freedom of expression standards. These include very restrictive content requirements for broadcasting, print and online media and a highly centralised media regulatory authority to police them for unbalanced or immoral reporting. The new authority is designed to grant permission to traditional and new media to operate. The authority is not independent as its head is appointed by the Prime Minister. The Press and Media law makes it very difficult for media and journalists to protect their sources, which will impede their capacity to investigate and inform. In addition they are threatened by high fines aimed at encouraging self-censorship.

The Statement places the media reforms in the context of the political situation in Hungary following the 2010 election. The sweeping electoral victory of Fidesz and its coalition with the Christian Democratic People's Party gave it a full control over the legislative agenda. By amending six times the Constitution and more than 50 laws, the Parliament removed basic checks and balances allowing the government to consolidate its power. The authorities disregarded the concerns about the decline of democracy in Hungary, and have been unwilling to discuss and seek wider public support for their actions.

"The Hungarian authorities should take seriously their obligations under international law and ensure that the media can fully enjoy their rights. The EU institutions and member states have a responsibility to ensure that respect for democratic values is immediately restored, including by undertaking the measures provided by Article 7 of the Treaty of Lisbon and suspending Hungary from certain voting rights", says Dr Agnès Callamard, ARTICLE 19 Executive Director.

Click on the following link to read the report:
hungary_controversial.pdf (151 KB)

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