I wrote many times about the media law in July and August when the first part of the law was under discussion. That part caused quite an upheaval in Hungary as well as abroad. It created a new structure, the Media Council, to oversee the media, without specifying exactly what the new authority should oversee. What its powers would be. In a way the people involved were somewhat relieved that the issue was postponed. I guess they thought that somehow the powers-to-be would calm down a bit and wouldn't introduce laws that would make the free and unfettered functioning of the media impossible. They were wrong. So here is the second wave of protest both in and outside of the country.
The Toronto Star was the first newspaper to inform the English-speaking world that something awful was happening in Hungary. AP correspondent in Budapest Pablo Gorondi reported that several Hungarian newspapers and magazines said that they will publish blank front pages in protest over the proposed media law that "will give state authority far-reaching powers over the media." According to the proposed law the newly created media watchdog, composed entirely of Fidesz appointees, would have the authority to issue heavy fines if, for example, they consider coverage unbalanced. Of course, what is unbalanced will be decided by a homogeneously right-wing group of people.
Members of the media, especially on the left-liberal side, consider the provisions of the law "the end of Hungarian press freedoms." There is no question that journalists critical of the government will be intimidated and will most likely be silenced, fearing the very substantial fines that could mean the end of some of these shoestring operations. According to Zoltán Kovács, editor-in-chief of ÉS, a political and literary weekly, "from now on the press will be under constant pressure."
BBC followed suit when it reported that several Hungarian newspapers published blank front pages in protest. BBC went into the details. Not only unbalanced reporting would be fined but also breaches of rules on covering sex, violence, alcohol, or "not honoring family values." BBC noted that according to the editor-in-chief of Magyar Narancs the law gives "the new media authority absolute control" over coverage. Under the new rules media outlets will have to fill at least half of their programming with European productions, meaning not American ones, and radio stations will have to dedicate at least 25% of airtime to Hungarian music.
Daniel McLaughlin of the Irish Times from Budapest reported that "a month before assuming the presidency of the European Union, Hungary is under fire over a proposed media law that a major watchdog has compared to those of totalitarian regimes." McLaughlin reported on the size of the fines: €90,000 on print and internet media and more €700,000 on radio and TV broadcasters. The Irish Times mentions another provision that is quite controversial: the new law will force journalists to reveal their sources in cases deemed to involve national security or public safety, which naturally can be interpreted quite liberally. Critics claim that as a result of this bill, if it passes, which most likely it will, "press freedom will come to an end on January 1, 2011 and with this law freedom of speech and opinion will also become obsolete."
All the foreign reports add that this bill "is only the latest government abuse of its massive parliamentary majority, which has allowed it to tinker with the constitution, strip the constitutional court of much of its power to rule on financial issues, and install party loyalists at all levels in all areas of public life."
Bloomberg also reported on the blank pages of ÉS and Magyar Narancs. It noted that Népszabadság, the country's largest newspaper by circulation, announced that it will turn to the Constitutional Court if the lawmakers approve the media bill. In addition, Népszava will appear in a truncated form tomorrow. Several internet papers already did so, including Galamus, a group of people I'm involved with.
Dunja Mijatovic, the media freedom representative for the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said the reforms were "not in compliance with OSCE standards. Laws like this have only been known in totalitarian regimes where governments are restricting free speech."
Here is the protest of the Galamus Group:
We protest against the intent to submit the entire Hungarian media and press to the authority of Viktor Orbán through hierarchical Fidesz directives, through incalculable and therefore arbitrary norms, and through brutal financial sanctions.
We protest against the molestation, the harassment, and ultimately the silencing of reporters and opinion-shapers on the basis of denunciations by Fidesz activists specializing in such matters.
We protest against investing media supervisors with unlimited power in order to satisfy the demands of Viktor Orbán.
We protest against the intent to intimidate and spread fear in the media community.
We protest against the obvious goal of the draft bill to make submissiveness, cowardliness, and servility the characteristic behavior of journalists once again.
We stand for the freedom of every Hungarian citizen, for the freedom of thought and opinion, for the right to express personal convictions without fear.
We protest in defense of and in the interest of transparency in Hungary.
No one has the right–least of all an unscrupulous parliamentary majority that is being manipulated to be the spearhead against democracy, the rule of law, and freedom–to deprive this country of even the possibility of creating a democratic, free, responsible, varied, and healthy public life.
Not even they can vote for this draft bill!
I don't want to spoil the hope inherent in the last sentence. They will vote for it without blinking an eye. These robots don't even know what they are voting for.