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International mission blasts unjust media legislation and regulation

Aidan White, head of the mission and an expert with the Media Diversity Institute, at a meeting with MTI, the state news agency in Hungary.
Aidan White, head of the mission and an expert with the Media Diversity Institute, at a meeting with MTI, the state news agency in Hungary.

SEENPM

The South East European Network for Professionalization of Media (SEENPM) and 11 other IFEX members and partners conducted an international mission in Hungary on 14 to 16 November, just weeks after nearly 100,000 gathered in the streets demanding media pluralism.

In a public press conference held on 16 November, mission delegates concluded the country's media legislation does not meet basic European and international standards and its regulation and licensing regimes could undermine diversity and quality in the media landscape.

IFEX members and affiliates including the South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), an affiliate of the International Press Institute (IPI), ARTICLE 19, Freedom House, Independent Journalism Center (IJC) Moldova, Index on Censorship and the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) all took part in the mission. It was organised by SEENPM and also included numerous Hungarian civil society groups. Participants met with journalists in Hungary as well as lawyers, free expression advocates and representatives from the media authority and government.

Hungary's media legislation, in effect since January, has come under heavy international criticism including from EU politicians and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), mission delegates noted. Under the legislation, the media control body, whose members are appointed by the ruling party, can impose massive fines based on vague allegations, including "imbalanced" or "insulting" media coverage. Among other shortcomings, Hungary's new media regulation regime limits possibilities for review of decisions made by the media authority and the media council. It also gives authorities – contrary to international legal standards – the opportunity to force journalists to reveal their sources, the mission concluded.

According to Aidan White, who headed the international mission, the strict regulatory environment along with "deteriorating economic conditions, technological change and media concentration," have created "a perfect storm that threatens independent journalism" in Hungary.

On 25 October, nearly 100,000 people marched in a "One Million for Freedom of the Press" demonstration to denounce Hungary anti-free expression regulation and legislation, reports the European Federation of Journalists, which lent its support to the protestors. Organisers handed out approximately 50,000 symbolic "press cards" to raise awareness about the importance of independence, freedom and diversity in media.

The EFJ also condemned the "so far timid" position of the EU regarding Hungary's non-compliance with European free expression standards.

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