UN Rapporteur ‘Shocked’ by Media View of Hungarian Officials

Hungary’s media law, amended after European Union criticism, is still a concern in part because of the ruling party’s dominance of the media regulator, according to the United Nations' special rapporteur on press freedom.

The appointment of all five members of the Media Council by Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s ruling party, as well as the length of their mandate at renewable nine-year terms, are problematic, UN Special Rapporteur Frank La Rue told reporters in Budapest today. Political influence and the threat of fines may spawn self-censorship, he said.

Hungary’s media law, which took effect on Jan. 1, has been criticized by governments and newspapers across Europe, clouding the country’s six-month EU presidency. The law gives the panel the power to fine or close media outlets.

“I was a bit shocked, to say it politely, at some of the positions I heard,” said La Rue, who was invited by the government to assess the law. “Different government officials were speaking with full honesty and speaking their mind, but it does seem to me that there is a framework of control. I think this is very dangerous.”

The composition of the Media Council can lead to the “depolitization” of media regulation, Zoltan Kovacs, state secretary in charge of government communications, said at the same press conference. While Hungary agrees with the principles of press freedom, media regulation also needs to reflect “local perspectives,” he said.

Hungary should diversify the membership of the regulator, for example, by including representatives of press associations and opposition parties in their ranks, La Rue said.

Hungary’s Parliament, where Orban’s lawmakers hold a two-thirds majority, bowed to EU demands last month to limit regulators’ powers to censor “offensive” reporting, ease registration requirements and bar discrimination against non-Hungarian broadcasters.

The amended law still fails to meet press freedom commitments, Dunja Mijatovic, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s representative on freedom of the media, said in a March 8 statement.

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