Although I've written quite a bit on the new Hungarian media law, I didn't touch on the part that deals with a peculiar new way of delivering news in the public, state-financed media. MTI, the official Hungarian news agency, will not only gather news but also edit the news and distribute it to Magyar Televízió (MTV), Duna Televízió, a station that serves the Hungarian disaspora, and Magyar Rádió (MR). Everything will be centralized. The same news can be heard on all three public media. Only the anchors will be different.
People who know something about editing news consider this arrangement unworkable because editing the news for radio and television requires entirely different skills. Even the new head of MTI admitted that the task will not be easy. Well, that's their problem. I'm much more worried about what kind of news MTI will deliver. The new president made it clear to the staff that MTI "must be loyal to the government." This is a concept that is unimaginable in democratic countries and bears a suspicious resemblance to the good old days of the dictatorship.
The staff at MTI is rapidly adjusting to the new requirements. Only two days ago Hírszerző, an online newspaper, noticed that MTI's reporting of foreign news leaves something to be desired. The journalists at Hírszerző discovered that MTI changed the tone of a statement of a German Christian Democratic politician to sound much more favorable to the Hungarian government than the German original was. According to the MTI version, Manfred Grund found it "a total impossibility" that anyone should question Hungary's loyalty to Europe. Grund, they continued, emphasized that the negative opinions of Hungary's media law reflect "superficial attitudes formed along party lines." According to MTI, Grund considers it "especially absurd that anyone can question the rotating presidency of Hungary." In the original, as it turns out, Grund simply said that "it is inappropriate" to talk about depriving Hungary of the presidency. Moreover, he added that "a free and not always pleasant reporting is part of democracy," which MTI didn't mention. Grund didn't talk about either a "total impossibility" or "superficial attitudes formed along party lines." MTI added these phrases to make a CDU politician's support of the Orbán government look stronger than it actually was.
Then a couple days ago I found that MTI had falsified the contents of an article "EU presses Hungary on media law" that appeared in the Financial Times on December 24, 2010. The article informs the readers that Neelie Kroes, one of the European Commission's vice-presidents, wrote a letter to Hungary's deputy prime minister. I will use red for the Financial Times's original text and blue for the corresponding Hungarian text.
Financial Times: The European Union official in charge of overseeing media freedoms has asked the Hungarian government to defend its controversial new press law, ratcheting up a potentially fraught EU investigation into the measure.
MTI: Neelie Kroes, vice-president of the European Union who is responsible for media, inquired about the media law passed this week in parliament.
Financial Times: Neelie Kroes, one of the European Commission’s vice-presidents, wrote to Hungary’s deputy prime minister, Tibor Navracsics, on Thursday asking him to send the text of the law to her so that she can determine whether it complies with EU law governing media freedom.
MTI: From the article entitled "EU presses Hungary on media law" one can learn that the Dutch commissioner in her letter to Tibor Navracsics among other things asked to send the text of the bill to her in order to determine whether it complies with the Union's regulations governing the freedom of the press.
Financial Times: Her letter comes less than two weeks before Hungary is scheduled to take over the EU's six-month rotating presidency, which gives Ms Kroes’ inquiry added political tension. Ms Kroes will be joining her fellow members of the 27-person European Commission for its first meeting in Budapest in the first week in January. Mr Navracsics also serves as justice minister in the centre-right government of prime minister Viktor Orban. The law was passed by Hungary’s parliament, overwhelmingly controlled by Mr Orban’s Fidesz party, earlier this week.
MTI: Completely left out from the report.
Financial Times: According to people who have seen the letter, it raises questions about the independence of the powerful new media regulator set up by Mr Orban’s government, which will have nominees of Fidesz in all five seats.
The media council has the right to investigate, judge and fine publishers and broadcasters which it deems to have hurt “human dignity” or “caused offence” to nationalities, churches or minorities.
According to people who have seen the letter, Ms Kroes details EU protections regarding press freedoms, adding she has heard concerns that the “act risks jeopardising these rights”. It also says Ms Kroes has received complaints that the language governing the new media council “does not seem to guarantee its independence”.
MTI: The article quotes people who are familiar with the contents of the letter. According to them Kroes recites the guarantees of the Union concerning media freedom and mentions worries that reached her that there might be the risk that these guarantees might be endangered.
Financial Times : In addition, the letter questions whether the new law’s provisions violate EU directives barring countries from regulating broadcasts from other member states. According to an official involved in the EU inquiry, the Hungarian law appears to put new restrictions on broadcasts coming into Hungary from abroad.
The law has already received harsh international criticism. Earlier in the week, the top media official at the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe issued a statement in which she said the law violated “media freedom standards” and that it “endangers editorial independence and media pluralism”.
Ms Kroes’ action, however, could have more serious repercussions. The EU has already opened a so-called “infringement action” against Hungary for its failure to live up to the EU’s media regulations, and Ms Kroes could take the case to the European Court of Justice to force Budapest’s hand.
In recent days, senior Fidesz politicians have made some unusually conciliatory noises, without indicating they would back down. The party’s leader in parliament said earlier this week that he was open to amending the law if the new media council implemented it incorrectly. Hungary has showed no signs of relenting in a separate dispute with the ECB over its central bank's independence.
MTI: The letter is asking questions concerning the independence of the new media control authority. In addition, the letter doubts that the provision that would regulate media originating from other member countries complies with union rules.
The Financial Times reminds its readers that the media law received severe international criticism. It also quotes the person responsible for media in the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
I don't think that one has to add anything to this. A comparison of the two texts speaks for itself.