The Hungarian media law is passed

Naturally its passage was never in question. Yet Fidesz demanded that all members of parliament vote by name. I assume this was necessary to make sure that no one, but no one from the Fidesz and Christian Democratic caucuses dares push the "wrong button" by mistake. A fear that not all 256 members of the Fidesz and KDNP caucuses present would vote for this draconian law and there wouldn't be a perfectly unanimous decision.

This procedure takes a long time and it often happens nowadays that parliament votes on very important pieces of legislation in the wee small hours of the morning. MTI could report on the passage of the media law only at 5 o'clock in the morning. There were some protests during voting. Parliamentary members of LMP stuck orange-colored tape on their mouths while two of their members displayed a sign: "Hungarian freedom of the press–it lived twenty-one years." Tibor Szanyi (MSZP) held up a muzzle when it came to the vote.

The bill is 180 pages long and therefore I can mention only a few of the most important provisions here. First and foremost, the new Media Council, comprised entirely of Fidesz members or sympathizers, can fine all media (television, radio, internet) for inciting hatred against persons, nations, communities, national, ethnic, linguistic or other minorities or even majorities. In case you find the mention of this last group a bit odd, you're right, but from a nationalistic governing party its inclusion is not surprising. How often one could hear in the past, even from the mouth of Viktor Orbán himself, that the left "always turned against the nation." Or that, again a famous Orbán quotation, the "nation cannot be in opposition." Thus, if you criticize the government it will be easy in the future to interpret this criticism as an incitement against the majority. In addition, it will be enough to offend the sensitivity of any group. Well, I guess it all depends on how sensitive one is toward criticism.

Then come the details on the fines for "the transgressions." For media outlets with "significant influence" the fine can be 200 million forints or about 1 million dollars. I assume in this category one would find the two largest television stations: RTL Club and TV2. Others are luckier. They will have to pay only up to 50 million forints if the Media Council finds them guilty. Nationwide dailies, including internet newspapers, can be fined up to 25 million forints while weeklies and other periodicals can get away with 10 million. In addition, the editors of the offending media can be personally fined 2 million forints. All organs, including internet newspapers, must be registered with the authorities.

Originally the bill read that these fines will have to be paid immediately, prior to any appeal in the justice system. However, István Pálffy (KDNP), a former anchor at MTV, and László L. Simon (Fidesz), allegedly a writer turned politician, felt that perhaps this was too much to swallow, not so much at home but abroad. A revision to the bill lightened the severity of the law at this point. The fined media can ask for a suspension of the fine from the courts until a final decision is reached. However, the courts cannot decide on how "just" or "unjust" the "punishment" was, only on the appropriateness of the size of the fine. They can contemplate such weighty questions as whether this is a television station with "substantial influence" and thus whether the size of the fine is appropriate.

The authorities can also suspend the right to broadcast. The suspension might last only a few minutes but it could be as long as a whole week. In extreme cases the authorities even have the right to shut the organ down permanently.

As for content. The owner of a television channel or a radio station with a large audience (35% of the listeners) will be barred from acquiring another television or radio station, which is a reasonable provision. The programming of these stations is strictly circumscribed. Half of the programs of the television station must come from Europe, and Hungarian content must make up one third of its programming. In the case of public broadcasting (Magyar Televízió and Duna TV) the programming requirements are even stricter: 60% European and 50% Hungarian content is prescribed. As for radio stations, 35% of the music they broadcast must be Hungarian and 25% of this must have been recorded in the last five years. (It will be quite a feat to pick the right pieces and calculate the percentages!) It is somewhat reassuring that the stations, radio and television, will have the opportunity to discuss the details of the change with the Media Council and they will have three years to ease into the new requirements.

Now we come to news. Television stations "with significant influence" must spend at least fifteen minutes on news between 7 and 8:30 a.m. and at least 20 minutes between 6 and 9 p.m. Radio stations with a large audience will have to spend at least 15 minutes on the news between 6:30 and 9:30 a.m. In the evening between 6 and 9 p.m. there must be news lasting at least 20 minutes. Reporting on crime that "doesn't serve the interest of the democratic public" must be restricted to 20% of the time devoted to news.

There is one provision I actually welcome: television stations must show at least 25% of foreign films broadcast between 7:00 and 11:00 p.m. in the original language with Hungarian subtitles. Actually, if it depended on me, I would demand all of them to be shown in the original language. A lot of people claim that Hungarians' knowledge of foreign languages might have been made easier with undubbed films on TV.

There are many provisions concerning the protection of children. For example, programs that shouldn't be watched by children under the age of 16 will have to be shown after 9:00 p.m. Moreover, programs which  are not suitable for those under 18 years of age can be shown only after ten. That in 2011 when many eighteen-year-olds have been sexually active for years. Or when teenagers surf the internet for juicy stories.

Put it this way, members of the Hungarian media are prepared for the worst. Although the supporters of the bill keep repeating that one ought not assume that the members of the Media Council are not well meaning people and let's wait until the new rules and regulations are actually enforced, critics of the bill are still worried. As József Debreczeni said today on ATV's Egyenes Beszéd (Straight Talk), the difference between dictatorship and democracy is that in the former we are dependent on the goodwill of the authorities whereas in a democracy the law stipulates what the authorities can and can't do. Right now the members of the media can only hope that the Media Council will be reasonable. But I wouldn't be too optimistic. What has happened in the last six months doesn't give rise to much hope.

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Bloggingportal.eu
Guest

We at Bloggingportal.eu propose a European Blog Action against this bill:
http://www.bloggingportal.eu/blog/european-blog-action-against-censorship-in-hungary/

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

“We at Bloggingportal.eu propose a European Blog Action against this bill”
Glad to hear.

Minusio
Guest

Too little, too late. The bill is a law by now.

Member

From Reuters, Tuesday, December 21st.
“Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn criticised the [law] in an interview with Reuters in Germany, saying the European Commission must take swift action against it.
“The plans clearly violate the spirit and the letter of EU treaties,” Asselborn said, adding: “It raises the question whether such a country is worthy of leading the EU.”
Hungary takes over the European Union’s rotating presidency on January 1.
“It’s a direct danger for democracy,” Asselborn said in a telephone interview. “The state will control opinion.”
Asselborn said the law would put Hungary in a similar boat as Belarus. “Until now (Alexander) Lukashenko was considered to be the last dictator in Europe. When the law takes effect, that won’t be the case any more.”

latefor
Guest

Re: the protection of children (and adults)
It is welcoming to see that the government is actually doing something to stop the de-sensitization of the innocents and impressinable.
In the case of public broadcasting it would be nice to see (all over the world, not only in Hungary)if the contents of some of the shows would be limited to something like:
1 x murder/week
1 x cut up body/month etc. etc.
I have to stop now as my imagination is running wild!

whoever
Guest

Some of the content of ‘news’ and ‘current affairs programmes’ – I’m talking about RTL KLUB – is really appalling, and is broadcast as early as 6.30. And I can tell you that I’m no prude, but is it really necessary to present reality show contestants masturbating each other at a time when kids are still awake? The content of Hungarian commercial media is cynical and uncontrolled by any sense of taste. I don’t like much of this law, but some of the clauses related to children and subtitling make some sense.

Karl Pfeifer
Guest
SEEMO/IPI Press Release: Joint SEEMO/IPI Fact-finding Mission to Hungary Held from 15-16 December 2010 Mission Delegates Meet Broad Array of Media Stakeholders Vienna, 20 December 2010- The International Press Institute (IPI) and its affiliate, the South and East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), held a press freedom fact-finding mission to Hungary on 15-16 December 2010. The mission participants were: SEEMO Secretary General Oliver Vujovic, SEEMO Board Member Marta Palics, and IPI Press Freedom and Communications Manager Anthony Mills. The SEEMO/IPI delegation met with a broad array of journalists and state officials, including the head of Hungary’s newly-established Media Council, Annamaria Szalai. The mission came as Hungary’s parliament debated another package of media legislation which would significantly expand the powers of the newly-formed Media Council, allowing it to oversee virtually all media in the country. In recent months, IPI and SEEMO have also expressed concern at legislative efforts – described by the ruling party as necessary media reform – to consolidate public media under a powerful umbrella, and to give the government greater control over the media. The draft legislation currently being discussed in parliament grants the Media Council the right to monitor the media’s compliance with the recently-passed Media Constitution, according… Read more »
Vladimir
Guest

Am wondering if there was anything within the Fidesz campaign back last spring promising media reform? Or is this one of the phantom planks that they were voted in on?

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

whoever: “I don’t like much of this law, but some of the clauses related to children and subtitling make some sense.”
My problems are not with these parts of the law. I even said so in case of foreign-language films.
But, for example, Media can be forced to reveal their sources, the media authority can search editorial offices, can copy reporters’ notes and mandate that publishers hand over confidential business information and levy serious fines on those that refuse.

GDF
Guest

“As for radio stations, 35% of the music they broadcast must be Hungarian”
Another Ceausescu-like move. During the darkest days of his reign one could rarely hear anything else but Romanian folk songs on any radio station. The effect was not the desired one: many started to dislike the genre…

Odin's Lost Eye
Guest
So it has been voted into law. Now Europe can act. Minuiso In Europe you cannot anticipate an offence; you can only act after the event. Europe has probably been warning Hungary about what Fidesz is up to, but OV (the Mighty One) is so full of his own importance and greatness that he does not care. He still will not care after the brown and smelly hits the fan. OV (the Mighty One) believes that he can use Hungary’s vote in the Council of Europe to stifle any actions against his activities in Hungary. He also believes that he can use Hungary’s position in the European road network as leverage. If his Fidesz gooks have not spotted this they are dimmer than I thought If Hungary left Europe the all the lands to the south would be cut off from the rest of the Union. A quick glance at Google Earth will show this to be essentially true as there are two blockages or choke points, the Ukraine and Serbia. The European infrastructure fund has financed four major routes (motorways/freeways) through Hungary and a link route through Austria. Close them and everything would have to go via Taranto/Bari and… Read more »
Member

Some people misunderstand the intention of this law. Of course everyone wants balanced journalism and balanced entertainment, but how far can you go to to regulate it. In Canada we have the CRTC (Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission), there is the Human Rights Commission, the Advertising Standards of Canada, etc. Many of them has codes and guidelines (not laws, but that too), but all of them act for a basic purpose, to support social norms that are may or may not put into law.In Hungary I find that social norms are changing with each government, and the need to stand up or not for certain things is open for interpretation. (The difference between hate speech, hate propaganda and freedom of speech.) Fidesz (again) took a populist approach in the name of “We will protect the children! We will protect Hungary!” and turned it into a tool to keep control. This new Law is not about protecting anything or anyone (beside the Fidesz) but to keep control, and to silence the press.
(To say that this is a great law, because it will not allow children to watch garbage is ridiculous.)

Joe Simon
Guest

Hungarian media need some quality control. Once coming from the airport I was shocked listening to a man on the radio talking about his relationship with ‘Sanyika’, obviously a minor. He then asked listeners with similar sexual tastes to contact him. Or there is Csurka’s Weekly paper where open ‘zsidózás’ is on every page. Nothing of that sort would be permitted in Canada for example. I just hope that FIDESZ will tread lightly here. You know the expression: fools rush in where angels fear to tread.

Paul
Guest

Nice to hear from reasonable ‘Joe’ again. Let’s not stress about state media control because it might stop one or two minor infringements of (his) taste.
And, as always, ‘Joe’ assures us that we can trust OV not to go too far.
Freedom of the press (media) is either total, or it doesn’t exist. It’s like pregnancy – you can’t be a little bit pregnant.
You may not like all its implications, but a little soft porn and the odd radio comment you don’t agree with (or even, from a personal perspective, the whole of Hungarian TV!) is a small price to pay to stop the government controlling the news and opinions Hungarians receive.
And, whether you believe it or not, that is definitely the direction OV is heading in. He doesn’t care a toss about your sensitivities, he just wants total control over the media so Hungarians never read or hear anything bad about his government.

Leo
Guest
I spent some time checking Dutch internet media on Hungary´s press law, because this may prove to be an important moment. Usually interest in Hungarian affairs is low here, and today is no exception. Sure, all newspapers have critical accounts of the law (with the possible exception of the largest, right wing De Telegraaf, it´s international news section being headlined by a German litter of 17 puppies). But in most cases these reports are not more than an echo of what seems to be a note from a press agency. It is mentioned that Hungary will have Europe´s strictest media law, that a government appointed agency will have the freedom to hand out heavy penalties at will, that the OCSE has shown serious concern in the matter and that there has been some protest in Hungary. It´s also pointed out that Hungary will take over EU-presidency on January 1th. The newspapers show however little involvement with a subject that should be more close to their hearts. It´s almost as if something like this is to be expected in an exotic and far away country like Hungary. The centre-left daily De Volkskrant compares the Hungarian press law to Chávez´s latest gimmick… Read more »
Member
Joe: ” Or there is Csurka’s Weekly paper where open ‘zsidózás’ is on every page. Nothing of that sort would be permitted in Canada for example. I just hope that FIDESZ will tread lightly here. ” You are right, this would not be tolerated, but as I said this is not in the media law. “The Criminal Code prohibits “hate propaganda.” The Canadian Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination on various grounds, and forbids the posting of hateful or contemptuous messages on the Internet. Legislation in the provinces and territories prohibits discrimination on the same grounds as Canada’s Human Rights Act in matters of provincial or territorial concern such as employment and accommodation.” As you see this is Criminal Code issue. Recruiting minors for sexual activity considers to be Sexual Exploitation and it is also criminal offence and not a media issue. (If the media broadcasts sexual exploitation messages then this is a criminal offence.) Freedom of speech is protected in Canada in the media or otherwise and this should be not mixed up with criminal issues. “Toronto – The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario has ruled that newspaper editorials are not covered by Ontario’s Human Rights Code. The Ontario Human… Read more »
Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Leo, thank you for the description of the Dutch media. I will actually try to translate with the help of Google translate the article you mention. It was nice seeing Bolgar on the video. I like him enormously. Fantastically well informed guy with a memory of an elephant.

Rich
Guest

Thanks Leo, have a look at http://www.hongarijevandaag.nl
(Europa bezorgd over Hongaarse mediawet)
Groet.

kormos
Guest

I did not read the newly legislated media law, but it is obvious that it is different from previous practice.
Do other EU Countries have media laws? If yes, could someone detail the significant differences between French, German and the newly minted Hungarian media law?
Do other EU Countries have media control agency and does such agency have the duty of right to set fines for noncompliance?

kormos
Guest
Member

To kormos: media laws do exist. It is important to understand that there are different rules apply for media that is funded by the State (non commercial), and for profit/independent private media. Those rules are not part of the “general ” media legislations/rules/regulations.
Here are a few links for your interest about EU guidelines, rules, Green Papers, etc.
http://ec.europa.eu/avpolicy/reg/minors/rec/index_en.htm
http://ec.europa.eu/avpolicy/reg/minors/index_en.htm
German Broadcasting Law explanation: http://www.iuscomp.org/gla/literature/broadcst.htm
France Audiovisual Communication:
http://www.csa.fr/multi/index.php?l=uk

Paul
Guest
I was going to say that we don’t have media laws in the UK, but then I thought about it for a while, and I’m ashamed to say we do – some of them even more draconian than OV’s. But at least we don’t have blanket laws designed to stifle political debate or restrict ‘uncomfortable’ news (that is achieved quite effectively by the fact that the overwhelming majority of newspapers are right-wing anyway!). Perhaps the most obvious UK media law is the constitution governing the BBC, which requires the corporation to be politically balanced (I think the same applies to the terrestrial commercial stations as well). Beyond this well meaning (and mostly successful) legislation, there is no general media law, beyond trying to make advertisers behave (e.g. not actually lying about their products). But we do have a dark side to all this, and that’s where both the courts and the government can stop certain opinions or news stories from being printed or broadcast altogether. This is often very dark indeed, as they can also restrict or forbid discussion of these bans, so the media can’t even tell us they’ve been banned from telling us about something! The government can… Read more »
Sebastian
Guest

Hello there, thanks for the interesting article. I find it hard to obtain first hand information about this (by somebody who has actually read the hungarian document himself).
I have a technical question: Who exactly are the members of the NMHH appointed by? Can you briefly describe the process? How long do they stay in their position, and are they all replaced at the same time?
Thank you so much!

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