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Hungarian Weeklies Protest Proposed Media Law With Blank Covers

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Dec. 2 (Bloomberg) -- Hungarian weeklies Magyar Narancs and Elet es Irodalom ran blank cover pages today to protest a media bill they say will muffle the press by giving a regulator appointed by the ruling party too much power to mete out fines.

The bill, being debated by lawmakers, would allow the newly created Media Council to fine television and radio stations as much as 200 million forint ($943,000) for coverage deemed unbalanced, according to the proposal posted on parliament’s website. Fines for daily national newspapers and Internet news websites would be up to 25 million forint while the ceiling for weeklies would be 10 million forint.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s administration, elected in April with an unprecedented two-thirds parliamentary majority, is seeking to regulate media after it curtailed the powers of the Constitutional Court and appointed lawmakers from the ruling Fidesz party as the country’s president and the head the State Audit Office. All five members of the Media Council were recommended by Fidesz.

"The bill would provide total supervision of electronic, Internet and print media to the Media Council and through them to the government," Magyar Narancs said. "With that, press freedom would come to an end in Hungary as of Jan. 1, 2011."

Nepszabadsag, the country’s largest-circulation political newspaper, said it will turn to the Constitutional Court if lawmakers approve the media bill. The Budapest-based daily said the bill is too "general" on the criteria for sanctions, which violates the right to the rule of law.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Zoltan Simon in Budapest at zsimon@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this Willy Morris at wmorris@bloomberg.net

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