Viktor Orbán’s views on the media law

Foreign journalists and politicians continue to press their case against the Hungarian media law. Let me call your attention to two pieces that appeared in The Washington Post yesterday and today. Yesterday's was an editorial entitled "Putinization of Hungary." Today an article appeared on the Op/Ed page by Anne Applebaum, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and author specializing in Eastern Europe who happens to be the wife of Radoslaw Sikorski, foreign minister of Poland. The piece is entitled "Jeopardizing democracy in Hungary."

Naturally, Viktor Orbán has felt it necessary to respond to some of the negative reactions. On December 23 the Hungarian prime minister gave a fairly lengthy interview to Anette Szabó of HírTV. A day later Magyar Nemzet published an interview with Péter Csermely. In both cases the controversy surrounding the new media law figured prominently.

Anette Szabó began her interview on HírTV by inquiring about the opinion of two politicians, the German chancellor and the foreign minister of Luxembourg, both of whom warned Hungary that the media law is not acceptable in a democratic country belonging to the European Union. Orbán referred to them as two unfortunate characters. "The poor German chancellor" said nothing about the Hungarian media law. It was her "deputy spokesman" who spoke. Orbán tried to make his listeners believe that the spokesman simply conveyed his personal opinions. As for the foreign minister of Luxembourg, he really doesn't count because "the Luxembourg Socialist Worker's Party delegated him to the government." According to the prime minister of Luxembourg, Orbán continued, he didn't speak in the name of the government. Since then the foreign minister, who is also deputy prime minister, reaffirmed that what he said was not his private opinion.

To the question of whether he is considering changing this controversial media law the answer was a decided no: "We don't even dream of such a thing." The piece of legislation is a thoroughly European law, "there is not one paragraph in it that cannot be found in other European media laws." But if that is the case, why all this negative reaction, came the next question. "The reason is that very many people hate the idea that a right-wing Christian national party received a two-thirds majority in Hungary." This is their real problem even if they are talking about the media law. This kind of "noise" is normal. "Criticism from afar or from western Europe doesn't frighten us." Fear of foreign criticism "is characteristic only of countries that lack self confidence. We are not one of those." He is not a weak-kneed type, he added.

He continued in Magyar Nemzet with Péter CsermelyOrbán emphasized that he is willing to talk about the media law, but only in concrete terms. "But until now I have seen only bilious political attacks. There is no sensible discussion, no concrete objections." When Csermely brought up the fact that the members of the Media Council were all nominated by Fidesz, which might cause some consternation, Orbán's answer was his usual one: Fidesz has a two-thirds majority by the will of the people. Certainly they will not appoint people who sympathize with MSZP or LMP because after all they have to take responsibility for all the decisions. (It's interesting that he left out Jobbik as an opposition party.)

The next question concerned the supervision of the Internet. According to Csermely some people find the whole idea ludicrous, displaying an ignorance of the net. "We will see. This will be the responsibility of the Media Authority. The only thing we can do is to give them the opportunity to be successful." As for the print media, Csermely pointed out that the financial situation of newspapers is very bad as it is and therefore huge fines will mean financial ruin for most of them. Orbán's answer was evasive. He brought up some lurid examples of a sports magazine where children interested in sports are confronted with naked women. The follow-up question was an obvious one: If it is just a question of public morality, why didn't the law limit itself to specific instances of wrongdoing? Orbán denied that the law is too vague. "The goals of the media law are clear and unambiguous."

All in all, these two interviews showed a man full of self-confidence. Someone who cares not a wit what the world thinks of him. Yes, there is noise but he remembers what awful noise there was about the alleged lack of freedom of the media during the Antall government in the early 1990s. This upheaval is nothing in comparison. What Orbán didn't add was that Hungary's situation is very different today than it was almost twenty years ago. Today Hungary is a member of the European Union. Although Hungarian liberals complained a lot about József Antall and his ideas about the future of Hungary, Viktor Orbán simply cannot be compared to Antall, who with all his faults was a firm believer in the rule of law.

As for Hungary's status within the European Union, "the poor foreign minister of Luxembourg" today reaffirmed that the European Council is already studying the Hungarian media law. We of course don't know what is happening in the background. We have no idea what the Orbán government knows or suspects about the intentions of the Council. In any case, this morning Péter Szijjártó–and we must assume that he is speaking on behalf of the prime minister unlike his German counterpart–seemed to indicate that the Hungarian government "is willing to discuss the media law if the objections are presented in concrete and not in general terms." I don't know whether this is simply a reiteration of the prime minister's statement in the Magyar Nemzet interview or whether it presages a partial retreat on the media law. It will be interesting to see how all this plays out.

 

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Dave
Guest

This is just more wine without cheese. Please research how this law actually compares to media laws in other European countries and look into the history of the FCC, the history of the fairness doctrine and current and past decency regulation in the US. When performing your research consider fundamental demographic trends in Hungary (shrinking & aging population & reluctance to start families, etc). Please discredit the Fidesz claims by showing us the data. Without data you are just whining and the only people you will convince are the ones who already agree with you. Thanks

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Dave: “When performing your research consider fundamental demographic trends in Hungary (shrinking & aging population & reluctance to start families, etc).”
Sorry, but what does all have to do with the media law? Demographics and media law? I don’t see the connection.

Member

Dave: “Please discredit the Fidesz claims by showing us the data.” No data needed. If one is serious about keeping the goose safe, one does not put the wolf in charge for their security. After that there are no fact checking is necessary, as the incompetence already shows. I have one name for you Annamaria Szalai. I need no more data. I do not cry back the MSZP, but I do not buy into demagogy, as clearly many did. Why don’t you show us some data instead yourself.

Paul
Guest

So now we have a ‘Dave’ to keep ‘Joe’ and ‘Kevin’ company.
Fidesz are so full of their “two thirds” victory (51% in reality) BS, that they think those of us outside Hungary are as simple as their voters.
Interesting too to compare the ‘facts’ and argument style used by OV with that of ‘Joe/Kevin/Dave’. Uncannily like they have the same script writers…
And an appeal to whoever in Fidesz posts these pieces – could you at least use a Hungarian name next time?

Mutt Damon
Guest

@Dave How is the “reluctance to start a family” related to indecency in the media? Do you want to see more boobs on TV to get yourself frisky? Who knows? The leader of the media council, Szalai, who was the editor of a porn magazine in the 90s (Miami Press), may even agree with you. She can send you a couple of courtesy copies for your comments.
I don’t care how this so called “media law” compares paragraph by paragraph to the US regulations. Let’s wait until our porn queen starts implementing it by slapping on the wrist of the opposition media. Make sure you came back by then to comment on that too.

m
Guest

The first major objection could be the denial of source protection from media workers.
The second, would be, that not a court, will be deciding, where lie the limits of free speech(a Human Right). So the final say of the European Court of Human Rights will be made impossible.

An
Guest

@Dave: “This is just more wine without cheese. Please research how this law actually compares to media laws ”
It has been researched, the comparison can be found in this article if you read Hungarian:
http://nol.hu/belfold/20101228-erosen_santitanak_a_kormany_mediapeldai
Just one example from the article: for example, the Hungarian government says that online content is regulated in France and Austria as well… yes, true, but this regulation in those countries only applies to audiovisual online content, and does not include print (or text) online, as in the new Hungarian media law.
Yes, you can find elements of the Hungarian media law in other countries media regulation, but in different contexts… you can cut out parts of the Bible and recreate a document which message is just the opposite of the original…
Do you seriously believe that reputable professional organizations would express their concerns if everything were OK with this law? Please find below the link to the press release by The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe
http://www.osce.org/item/48262.html
or to the press release of the Freedom House:
http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=70&release=1292

Dave
Guest

@An
I expect reputable professional organizations to be objective. But I do not expect laws to be identical, just as I do not expect the Koran and the Bible to be, nevertheless they both provide the spiritual framework for their followers. I agree that OSCE brings up valid concerns, especially the degree of political influence in Hungarian public “independent” institutions in reference to the media law. When considering this, elements of this law can be concerning and possibly a little too ambitious. Thanks for the informative links and the intelligible response.

Member

Dave: “I expect reputable professional organizations to be objective.”
Exactly, so you would not put someone in charge who is not objective, and clearly a hypocrite. Also, you would not appoint five members from your own party with no representative from any of the opposition parties. Thanks for agreeing.

Karl Pfeifer
Guest

“The poor German chancellor” said nothing about the Hungarian media law. It was her “deputy spokesman” who spoke.
Such gibberish can be sold to some Hungarians, but in Germany people know very well, that the deputy spokesman is speaking for the government. Taking this line, Orban and his ilk show the world that they are a bunch of outlandish politicians, who believe the laws of Mucsa are valid outside Hungary.

Odin's Lost Eye
Guest
Why is there all this Hoo-hah about regulating a load of scribblers and ‘lovies’ when it comes to publishing their work. There are two forms of censorship, public censorship and self censorship. There is public censorship where the views of the ’Leadership’ are imposed on the rest of the population (e they moral, political, or what have you). Self censor ship is something that one imposes on one’s self I was once chatting with a group of ‘Holy Joes’ (priests and ‘others’ of various denominations). They were complaining about a Newspaper which included a photo of a handsome young man and a gorgeous young lady whose dress showed that she had ‘nothing’ at all underneath it. You can imagine the comments. My ‘parathion shot’ was to remind the ‘holiest’ of them that he had in his breviary a picture of an nearly naked man dying in agony! My question was which of the two images was more salacious? I would like answers from messrs ‘Dave’, ‘Joe’ or ‘Kevin’. Some years ago I was trying to write an article about ‘freedom’ and the rights of the individual. I came up with a problem which was about who had the greater rights?… Read more »
Odin's Lost Eye
Guest

Karl You write ** “Taking this line, Orban and his ilk show the world that they are a bunch of outlandish politicians, who believe the laws of Mucsa are valid outside Hungary” **!
No they are not outlandish politicians they are just pig ignorant elected ‘twerps’.
There was much discussion in the ‘Local’ about the Media law. In there that night there were several of the ‘youngsters’, who are learning English and, like to practice it. They asked me what I thought. I pointed out that the laws of Hungary ended at the borders of Hungary. One ‘old soak’ (a retired collective farm manager) disputed this. He said that the law was now part of European Law others agreed with him. Any comments?

Member
Odin: ” One ‘old soak’ (a retired collective farm manager) disputed this. He said that the law was now part of European Law others agreed with him.” Very interesting point. Any law created by a member of the EU certainly can “boil over”, as it sets a precedent. Just like Orban likes to justify his nonsense (true or not) “there is not one paragraph in it that cannot be found in other European media laws”, other members could use any part of his law to quote from as the precedent will be set. Exactly this is the danger. If the EU does not deal with this and with Orbans’ other nonsense now, the precedent will be set. I was thinking last night that meaybe Orban passed this law through now to create a diversion from the other undemocratic measures he has introduced. WHo talks about the “pension issue” any longer, who talks about Orban’s retroactive taxes, the new constitution and the list just goes on. …and then you get people who still do not see it, who they think if Orban installs what they feel is right then who cares if it is democratic or not, as it is their… Read more »
John T
Guest

I’ll be interested to see how the media law stands up to proper examination by the EU. Of course, if the Government has introduced this in a competent manner, then it’s state lawyers will have ensured that it complies with all of the relevant EU articles / laws. But bearing in mind the speed at which it has been introduced, and knowing how slowly the legal wheels can turn in Government, I do wonder if the necessary groundwork was done. Still, we should get some feedback in the new year, so I’ll keep my powder dry until then.

John G
Guest

As I understand it the President of the Republic had until yesterday to sign the Media Law or send it back for reconsideration. I also understand that he may have already done one or the other without fanfare. If he has signed it then it had to be published in the official gazette by this afternoon, Budapest time. So far I find no sign of such an announcement, this being written after 3 pm Budapest time.
I also understand that if the President had signed the Media Law yesterday or today there are constitutional grounds for nullifying the law based on the shortness of time before it comes into effect, 1 January.
Would someone please correct me if I am wrong in any or all of this.

kormos
Guest
@Sandor and John T Please forgive me for my ignorance that drives my further questions. From English language newsprint I gathered; there are/were about 3 (three) million members of Private Pension Funds in Hungary. The value of the combined funds were pegged at 2.7 trillion HUF That amounts to about 1 million HUF per member as an average. In a lucky situation, using today prices, 1 million HUF is about one year pension. Let’s work with a nice 6% interest (that equals to 30 years bond). It takes more than 30 years to get to 8 million. I know this calculation is wrong since it uses averages and sort of haphazard, but how would that amount provide proper pension 30 years down the road? http://www.euractiv.com/en/socialeurope/eu-report-warns-private-pension-risk/article-176533 There is not one country (Switzerland could be one, but I do not know) which gives a good example about budgeting for pensions, but the US 401K and the Canadian RRSP can be viewed as true private pension funds. I understand all the risks associated with them, I understand that investment options may be controlled by Government, but in the end the money is truly belong to the investor. Beside, those are not compulsory investments,… Read more »
Eva S. Balogh
Guest

John G: “Would someone please correct me if I am wrong in any or all of this.”
You’re perfectly right. Everybody and his brother is checking Magyar Közlöny (Official Gazette) and nothing! Rather peculiar.

Odin's Lost Eye
Guest
Mr Kormos The yields to be gained by a private investor in a private pension will depend on several factors. 1. What form did the original investment take? Was in the form for capital growth or was it invested for income? Capital growth is obtained by the market value of the shares rising. Income depends on the value of the dividends being worth the investment 2. What is done with the previous year’s yield? Is it stored (put in the bank), is it re-invested? Mr Kormos you write ** “Let’s work with a nice 6% interest (that equals to 30 years bond). It takes more than 30 years to get to 8 million’ **. Problem is you do not tell us the sum invested nor your ‘interest policy’. Is it simple or compound? I am afraid I cannot judge your figures. As a crude guide I would look at the market price of a bond and its effective interest rate. I would then calculate the pay-back period (how long it will take the interest received to pay back the original bond price. If it is less than 7 years I would look very more deeply and with suspicion. For a… Read more »
Joseph Simon
Guest

It seems that press freedom is nowhere absolute. Consider the English libel laws. According to some these laws are instruments of intimidation, stifling and destroying freedom of expression. Hungary’s media law is nowhere near that. At any rate, as EU president Orbán will have an opportunity of explain the intentions of his government before an international forum.

John T
Guest

Joe – I’m not sure on what you base your comments on UK libel law. If someone’s comments are spurrious or hearsay, maybe so, but if they are true and justified (e.g. in the public interest), then freedom of expression would not be curtailed. Additionally, a libel case would be decided in the High Court, under UK law.

kormos
Guest

CBC Radio aired a program a few days ago, talking about UK Libel Law, and how it was used by (even) other nationals to silence opposing parties etc. The process is lengthy and expensive, thus only the privileged wealthy class utilizes it.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

John T: “a libel case would be decided in the High Court, under UK law.”
There is libel law in Hungary today. One can always go to court if he/she feels that he was accused of some wrongdoing not committed. Magyar Nemzet specializes in unfounded allegations. A few days ago Gordon Bajnai won against Magyar Nemzet.

John T
Guest

Kormos – I agree with you that people will often go to the High Court to either seek injunctions (to stop publication) or to challenge what has been said. But, significantly, it doesn’t stop the press that much.

John T
Guest

Kormos – And of course, this is all done in a court of law.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

John T: “And of course, this is all done in a court of law.”
The situation is the same in Hungary at this very moment. You can sue the publication if you think you have been wronged. One doesn’t need a media law for that.

John G
Guest

“egyelőre még zajlik a szabályozás szövegének korrektúrázása, amivel várhatóan csak 31-re végeznek.”
So the President signed the media law but it cannot be published because the formal text still isn’t settled and needs “correction”
Pure “Alice In Wonderland”. Really and truly inspires confidence and trust in the law. No wonder they sarcastically call laws enacted by the new Fidesz government “rubber” laws.

Member

“Schmitt Pál szignálta a médiatörvényt, amit ma kézbesítettek a közlönykiadóhoz. Az Origo értesülését az Index kérdésére a Magyar Közlöny szerkesztőségében megerősítették: a törvény több ezer oldalnyi egyéb jogszabállyal, zsákokban érkezett a szerkesztőségbe, az egyik munkatárs szerint az várhatóan holnap megjelenik a hivatalos lapban.”
http://index.hu/belfold/2010/12/30/schmitt_alairta_a_mediatorvenyt/
(Schmitt Pal did sign the media law that was delivered to the Hungarian Official Journal today. The publisher confirmed that the law was delivered together with several thousand pages of other laws in a sack. The law will likely be published tomorrow, December 31st, a day before Hungary will take over the Presidency, as such making sure that they cannot torpedo Orban’s attempt to become the King of the World (my personal opinion.)