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Change the law now, says IFJ, as government targets bloggers

(IFJ/IFEX) - February 10, 2011 - The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), the regional body of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), today again called on Hungary to make radical and urgent changes to its controversial media law after an announcement that bloggers must register with the state before the end of June.

"The news that Hungary is pressing ahead with a law that has caused almost universal condemnation among press freedom defenders in Europe will only raise new anxieties that Hungary is reluctant to respect free speech rights," said EFJ General Secretary Aidan White. "The demand that journalists or bloggers must register with an authority entirely appointed by the Prime Minister is unheard of in any democratic country and it goes against all European principles of press freedom."

Hungary's media watchdog, the National Media and Infocommunications Authority (NMHH), has ordered blogs to register under the new law, although it is not clear what sanctions will follow in case they refuse.

The EFJ says Hungary must review the media law to make sure it is compatible with the letter or spirit of EU legislation, in particular the Charter of Fundamental Rights. If it is not the EFJ says it must be repealed.

The European Union Commissioner Nellie Kroes has already called on Hungary to change the law in three key areas. Firstly, to remove the obligation of media to "provide balanced coverage"; second, to change the levels of fines and restrictions on media content including from other member states; and, third to eliminate the obligation to register all media, including bloggers, which Ms. Kroes warns, compromises the EU's Charter of Fundamental Rights signed by Hungary.

The EFJ says the intervention is welcome, but also says the EU must enforce firmly rules across the internal market covering audiovisual policy, competition, telecommunications, state subsidies, public service obligation and fundamental rights of citizens, in order to ensure all Member states guarantee and promote freedom of information and an adequate level of media pluralism, including respect for press freedom under the Charter of Fundamental Rights. The EFJ says the Commission must set a strict deadline for its proposals to be adopted by the Hungarian authorities and infringement proceedings should start if the deadline is not met.

In a statement issued on 3 February, leaders of the Media Intergroup of the European Parliament also regretted "the lack of political will of [the European Commission] consultation, which again unfortunately focuses only on technical issues and not on the political values of the Union contained in the European Charter of Fundamental Rights". On 1st March 2011 the Media Intergroup will organise a hearing on press freedom in Europe.

"It's time to force Hungary to change course," said White. "This is not about politics or a vindictive attack on a particular EU state; it concerns the rights and values of all citizens and the defence of journalism as a public good."

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